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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

House should make it unanimous

Telegraph Editorial

Unanimous votes in legislative circles are usually reserved for the honorary, rather than the substantive. Naming a bridge or stretch of highway after a longtime public servant is the kind of thing that is likely to be passed without opposition. It’s fairly uncommon for all members of a legislative body to agreee on a bill that changes the law in a meaningful way.

Partisanship usually works against the chances of that happening, but it occurred last week in the New Hampshire Senate, when a bill to create a separate criminal category of domestic violence passed on a 24-0 vote. ...

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Unanimous votes in legislative circles are usually reserved for the honorary, rather than the substantive. Naming a bridge or stretch of highway after a longtime public servant is the kind of thing that is likely to be passed without opposition. It’s fairly uncommon for all members of a legislative body to agreee on a bill that changes the law in a meaningful way.

Partisanship usually works against the chances of that happening, but it occurred last week in the New Hampshire Senate, when a bill to create a separate criminal category of domestic violence passed on a 24-0 vote.

The bill would create a statute known as “Joshua’s Law,” named for Joshua Savyon, the 9-year-old Amherst boy who was killed by his father during a court-ordered supervised visit last August at a Manchester YWCA visitation center. The father then turned the gun on himself.

Joshua’s mother, Becky Ranes, fought back tears last Thursday as she watched senators pass the bill unanimously. She has been a tower of strength in her advocacy for the bill.

New Hampshire is one of only 15 states that lacks a separate crime for domestic violence. Altercations in the home have, depending on their severity, typically been charged under the state’s simple assault law. “When a person punches someone in a bar, that person is charged with assault,” said “Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, the prime sponsor whose district includes Litchfield. “When that same punch is thrown at your home, at the hands of someone who you placed your trust in, is that really the same type of assault? I don’t think so.”

She’s right. They are not the same. For one thing, as Soucy noted, they have different long-term consequences. It’s also likely that the emotions in play are quite different.

Part of the problem with treating domestic assault as if it were the same as any other type of assault is that it makes it harder to accurately track the true extent of the state’s domestic violence problem. Giving it its own category will allow those who work on the front lines of domestic violence to do so with better information at hand. That, the thinking goes, will help those workers address problems – and recognize recurring problems – hopefully before they reach the critical stage.

“Nothing can assuage the pain caused by the tragic murder of Joshua Savyon, but passing this bill in his memory will strengthen our communities and help countless families,” Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a statement last week.

That should be the goal, after all, and Joshua’s Law is supported by the state’s chiefs of police, county sheriffs and attorneys, the attorney general, and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

The bill now goes to the House, where it seems likely to pass. We would, however, like to see it pass unanimously on a roll-call vote, to send the strongest message possible that, whatever their political differences, those who represent the people of New Hampshire are united in their full-throated resolve to prevent future tragedies like the one that claimed the life of Joshua Savyon.

We still may not prevent every one, but that should never stop us from trying, whatever it takes.