Bill seeks to place harsher sentences on repeat domestic abusers - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Bill seeks to place harsher sentences on repeat domestic abusers

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A domestic violence safety bill getting bipartisan support at the state capitol seeks to make Tennessee safer for women.

If you look at mandatory sentences, the state of Tennessee considers a second DUI offense more serious than a second domestic violence conviction, and that has a lot of women's groups calling for this change.

Currently, the domestic violence conviction carries a 30-day sentence. But, with time off for good behavior, most batterers are out of jail in two weeks.

"That is extremely frustrating, because we have, in these cases, a second-time abuser," said Sara Beth Myers, president of the group AWAKE. "If you are going to get, as the law currently stands, 45 days for a second DUI conviction then why would you get 30 days - not day-for-day, not consecutive - for a violent crime?"

Advocates say if a woman does find the courage to start over, she really can't build a safer life in just two weeks. The proposed new law would change that sentence to 45 days, and many say that would make a big difference.

"Forty-five days is a chance for a victim to be able to get into a shelter, to start making plans to move on with her life," said Laura Cleason, a survivor of domestic abuse. "I spent my days at shelter looking over my shoulder every time I left, because I didn't know if he was going to find me and come after me."

Tennessee is among the 10 worst states for domestic violence incidents against women, and it has among the highest rates of men killing women. In Davidson County, half of all calls placed to the police are domestic violence calls.

Some have noted that the three states considered statistically safest for women are Iowa, Massachusetts and Illinois. The common factor in those states is they treat the third domestic violence conviction as a felony.

This bill has both Republican and Democratic support on Capitol Hill in Nashville, which can be a true rarity these days.

But when your state is considered so dangerous for women, it's hard to call the issue anything other than everybody's problem.

"I would like to see more things be bipartisan, but that's just the way it is now. But this is an issue that I think everybody agrees on. It's just how to get where we need to go that is the problem," said State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville.

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