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House passes Joshua's Law against domestic violence

State House Bureau

April 30. 2014 10:58PM
Joshua Savyon, 9, attended Wilkins Elementary in Amherst, where the school superintendent said staff and students knew him as "a gentle and happy child." (COURTESY)

CONCORD — A bill named after a 9-year-old boy shot and killed by his father at a Manchester visitation center passed the House on a 325-3 vote and is now headed to the governor, who said she will sign it.

Joshua's Law would not change current law or enhance penalties but would gather existing laws under one section of the criminal code.

Gov. Maggie Hassan praised Wednesday's House vote.

"By taking this important step, we will help law enforcement and prosecutors better identify and stop repeat abusers, while providing victims with access to support and protections as early as possible," Hassan said. "Although we will never be able to relieve the pain caused by the tragic murder of Joshua Savyon, enacting this bill in his memory will help countless families and communities."

Joshua was killed by his father, Muni Savyon, last August.

Hassan praised Joshua's mother, Becky Ranes of Amherst, for helping move the bill through the Legislature.

Under current law, someone who assaults or threatens a domestic partner or family member is usually charged under one of 17 state statutes that include such crimes as simple assault, criminal threatening, kidnapping or stalking.

SB 318 enables law enforcement and prosecutors to charge a suspect with domestic violence, which would be treated differently than an assault by a stranger.

Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice, who testified in favor of the bill in both the House and Senate, has said the change would improve the accuracy of state records in domestic violence cases, which in turn would improve the likelihood that such cases would be properly adjudicated and reported to federal authorities.

Speaking in favor of the bill on the House floor, Rep. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, called the legislation the most critical and comprehensive update to the state's domestic violence statutes since the 1990s.

Because the state does not have a crime of domestic violence, she said, chronic abusers go unrecognized.

"Fifty percent of homicides and 92 percent of murder-suicide cases are domestic-violence related," Chandley said. "These numbers are unacceptable and we need to act now to combat domestic violence."

She said the bill will also allow law enforcement to capture domestic violence statistics and lead to better monitoring and earlier intervention.

"Domestic violence is a crime mostly suffered in silence behind closed doors and almost always escalates," said Chandley. "It is time to call domestic violence what it is."

A related bill, Senate Bill 205 was also approved by the House Wednesday on a 275-23 vote.

The bill allows judges to order that if there is a history or the possibility of abuse, visitation only take place in a facility equipped with a metal detector. The bill also establishes a commission to review the availability of centers with metal detectors and looks to expand the number throughout the state.

Metal detectors could be required at supervised visitation centers such as the YWCA in Manchester where Joshua Savyon was killed.

The bill goes back to the Senate because of changes the House made.

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