Time to pass domestic violence law

The following editorial was published in the Island Packet of Hilton Head Island

New information showing that South Carolina’s domestic violence problem is even worse than we thought came with a quick antidote last week.

A House bill with tougher domestic violence penalties passed unanimously on Wednesday and cleared a third reading on Thursday.

That raises hope that meaningful reform will reach the desk of Gov. Nikki Haley and be enacted in this session.

South Carolina is in desperate need of reform, and advocates for change say the new law would deliver 80 percent of the change they sought. That would be meaningful reform the state desperately needs.

In addition to strengthened penalties, the bill would stop convicted batterers from possessing guns. It also requires anti-domestic violence education in elementary schools.

“This bill provides prosecutors and front line law enforcement with the necessary tools for combatting domestic violence,” state Attorney General Alan Wilson said after it cleared the House.

The bill represents compromises hammered out behind the scenes by House and Senate negotiators. Give credit to Rep. Shannon Erickson of Beaufort, who was on the House negotiating team and has been among the leaders on the issue throughout the session.

When the legislature convened in January, Wilson was joined in a Statehouse rally by lawmakers, prosecutors, victims, victims’ advocates and law enforcement leaders, all urging tougher penalties for domestic abusers.

“We need zero tolerance for repeat offenders and to give police and prosecutors on the front lines a number of tools and appropriate punishments,” Wilson said at the time.

Advocates came armed with grim statistics. South Carolina women are more vulnerable to death by domestic abuse than women in almost every other state.

And then last week, a task force appointed by Haley in January reported that domestic violence problems in South Carolina may be worse than originally thought.

The task force found no uniform reporting system for domestic violence statewide and no consistent policies on how police agencies handle domestic violence calls. It found that no one can definitely say how many domestic violence cases are successfully prosecuted in the state.

All of this shows that South Carolina has for too long failed to take seriously one of its most chronic problems.

Now the Senate must do what all those who rallied in January asked it to do: enact meaningful change before going home for the summer. Even with skewed and incomplete data, the legislature and governor know enough to take a bold stand.