Leaders praise dating violence bill at ceremonial signing, but work remains to help victims

04/09/2015 07:29 PM

FRANKFORT — Kentucky became the last state to offer protective orders for victims of dating violence during this year’s legislative session, but Gov. Steve Beshear and state lawmakers said Thursday much work remains on the issue.

Beshear ceremonially signed House Bill 8, a bill that creates a new class of protective orders covering partners in dating relationships. The governor called the legislation “a significant step forward” and “an important tool in helping us to reduce this problem.”

“We’ve seen a lot of numbers that demonstrate the magnitude of this problem,” Beshear said.

“We need to be aggressive in taking on this problem in a variety of fronts, including education, intervention, counseling and enforcement. House Bill 8 creates a unified, comprehensive system of emergency protections for victims of domestic violence, for victims of dating violence, of sexual assault, of stalking.”

HB 8 takes effect Jan 1., giving the state’s court system time to implement provisions of the bill. John Minton, chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, said the judicial branch is committed to ensuring the new law’s success.

The push for dating violence protections had stalled in the Republican-led Senate in recent years, but speakers Thursday credited Senate President Robert Stivers, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Whitney Westerfield and Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer for their help in crafting a compromise bill to alleviate concerns with including dating relationships as a protected class in current law on domestic violence and emergency protective orders.

Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican who was elected to the Senate in 2012, said opinions on dating violence had changed by his first legislative session in 2013. In his first session not only as a lawmaker but as chairman of the judiciary committee, a dating violence bill received its first committee hearing.

Westerfield, reflecting on a meeting with Rep. John Tilley and officials at a Hopkinsville-based domestic and sexual abuse shelter, noticed, like Tilley, a shift in attitude among senators.

“I think things were moving in this direction,” he said. “I think, Chairman Tilley, and I don’t want to speak for the now judge (Tom Jensen, former London senator and judiciary chairman), but my predecessor, I think, was maybe coming around. … I’m glad to pick up where he left off.”

Tilley, HB 8’s sponsor who brought his 16-year-old and 5-year-old daughters to the ceremonial signing, said the need for a dating violence bill hit him “squarely in the face” during his meeting with Westerfield and officials at the shelter.

“We’re also facing odds that I told you along the way I didn’t like,” said Tilley, D-Hopkinsville. “Having three girls, one in three women will still be victimized in some way on our state’s flagship campus despite the Green Dot program, despite national acclaim for a program that stops that kind of violence.

“And one in three women in this country, including Kentucky, will be victimized by stalking, by rape or some kind of violence and that’s completely unacceptable, but if we use these kinds of systems, we can decrease those numbers.”


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