(Editor's Note: House consideration of these bills was delayed last week. Rep. Schroder's bills will be debated by the full House when it convenes on Monday afternoon.)
The House of Representatives will debate two bills by Covington Rep. John Schroder that focus on reducing incidents of domestic violence in Louisiana. HB499 would toughen penalties associated with stalking, as well as close loopholes in existing law. HB509 would toughen penalties for violating protective orders issued against those already charged with domestic violence.
In fiscal only sessions like the one currently underway, legislators can only introduce a total of five bills for consideration. That two of the five bills Schroder introduced this session address aspects of the state's domestic violence problem is an indication of the importance he places on the matter.
"I think it's important that men step up and say that this is wrong and must stop," Schoder explains. He was interviewed in the Capitol on the bills late last week.
"I was in the military police and consequently dealt with a lot with domestic violence issues there," the Covington Republican says. "And, my family has also been affected by it." (He would not go into details in order to protect those who were directly involved.)
HB499 would require district attorneys or courts to issue protective orders against those convicted of stalking in addition to whatever penalties are imposed by the courts. The bill would also close a loophole in existing law which has allowed some stalkers to retain private detective to in effect be a third-party stalker.
Private investigators who are hired by those convicted of sexual assault or who are subjects of protective orders could be charged with stalking under Schroder's bill.
"Stalking is a form of intimidation," Schroder says. "A man can intimidate a woman without saying a word, just by his mere presence."
Mariah Wineski, interim executive director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says there is a direct connection between stalking and murder in domestic violence cases.
"We know that 79 percent of women who are killed by their intimate partners were stalked before they were murdered," Wineski explains. "We support HB499 because we think it addresses a central issue connected to victim safety."
HB509 would strengthen penalties for violation of protective orders. Protective orders are civil orders that are issued after criminal acts have been committed against victims. The effectiveness of the protective orders is directly related to how seriously law enforcement agencies take the orders.
"Violations of protective orders correlate with the lethality of the relationships," Wineski continues. "If the protective orders are violated, then that is an indicator that there will be violent encounters later."
"With proper enforcement, protective orders can be very effective," Wineski says. But, she points to a 2009 Department of Justice-funded study done on protective order enforcement in Kentucky which showed stark differences in the attitudes of law enforcement officers in rural areas compared to those in urban areas regarding domestic violence. Those attitudes affected enforcement of protective orders.
The study involved an even split of domestic violence victims in urban and rural parts of Kentucky. "Results suggest that partner violence is a lower priority in selected rural area compared to the selected urban area," the study found.
The Baton Rouge-based coalition and its partners are critical service providers for domestic violence victims in Louisiana. The partners, like Faith House in Lafayette, provide services and shelter for domestic violence victims across the state. Those services and shelters have been hit hard by years of tight state budgets and midyear budget cuts.
"Funding cuts have hurt our ability to provide needed services to domestic violence victims," according to Michelle Voss, development director for Faith House. "We've had to close two offices in our seven-parish service area due to budget cuts, as well a reductions in private sector support resulting from the slower economy."
Voss says Faith House served about 2,200 clients in 2016. Economic struggles produce stress in relationships and that stress can sometimes be expressed through violence. Faith House's Family Justice Center works with domestic violence victims to get legal advice and speak to law enforcement officers.
Letesha Davis, a survivor advocate with the Family Justice Center says she and her co-workers work on about 60 protective orders each month, which only hints at the scope of the problem.
"We're not involved in all protective orders even in Lafayette Parish because not everyone knows about Faith House and our work," Davis says. She believes domestic situations are also behind some murders in the area that are not immediately recognized as having roots in domestic disputes.
"I know that about eight murders in this area have had domestic violence linked to them," Davis says. "Murder/suicides often are tied to domestic disputes."
Schroder says the state's domestic violence problem is directly related to a lack of respect for women. He acknowledges that his bills won't change that but believes they can contribute to the safety of women by exacting real costs from those who commit crimes against women.
Schroder's bills are scheduled to be debated on Wednesday afternoon when the House convenes.