TRENTON – A group of legislators and domestic violence prevention advocates met at the State House today to call attention to a package of bills currently pending before the Legislature that would enact much needed updates to the state’s domestic violence laws.
“Domestic Violence Awareness Month may be coming in October, but domestic violence is an issue New Jersey residents face every single day,” said Senator Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex. “We’re renewing the fight for stronger anti-domestic violence laws now so that as we turn the page to October, New Jersey can move toward becoming a safer place for the victims of domestic violence.”
The first piece of legislation is S-331, known as “Heather’s Law” in honor Heather Newman, an Old Bridge woman murdered in December by her estranged husband after a series of domestic violence incidents involving physical, emotional and mental abuse. The bill would allow judges to order the use of electronic monitoring of those convicted of domestic violence or subject to a final restraining order. The measure is sponsored by Senators Greenstein and Buono.
“I believe Senate Bill 331, ‘Heather’s Law,’ is the beginning of a fitting tribute for my cousin Heather Newman through the NJ Legislature,” said Ashlee Newman, Heather’s cousin and Director of the Justice for Heather Coalition. “With the GPS tracking that the bill provides, the sole focus we see in this is protection. Protection is where the system failed Heather and by passing this law, our state is taking the first steps in the right direction to prevent other families from facing the sorrow that will forever plague my family.”
“Domestic violence victims must often deal with the emotional toll from their abuse for years and when their abuser is released into the public they often live in fear that their abuser will slip through a court order or ignore the conditions of their release and come to harm them again,” said Senator Linda R. Greenstein, D-Middlesex/Mercer. “With electronic tagging and monitoring of domestic violence abusers, we would provide those abused with the ability to move on and begin to rebuild their lives free from fear.”
The second bill, S-148, would require cell phone service providers in New Jersey to inform customers how they can deactivate GPS-based location services that allow cell phones, and their owners, to be tracked by other individuals. The measure was introduced following the reporting of incidents that domestic violence victims were being stalked by their abusers using the GPS functions on their cell phones.
“These reports of cell phone stalking are alarming, underscoring how technology meant to keep families safe can become deadly in the wrong hands,” explained Senator Buono, prime sponsor of S-148. “Victims of stalking and domestic violence needed to be empowered to protect themselves and prevent their abusers from using a vital piece of technology to continue to threaten and put them in fear.”
The final measure is S-1301, sponsored by Greenstein and Buono, which would create the new crime of “impairing communication.” Impairing communication would occur when any person knowingly denies or impedes another’s attempt to seek assistance in protecting their health, safety or well-being. The bill would also add impairing communication to the list of crimes that could be considered domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse, but also involves any attempt to emotionally abuse and terrorize,” Senator Buono said. “Preventing someone from seeking help or shelter when they feel threatened is domestic violence and should be dealt with in the same manner as stalking, assault and battery. This will help the victims of domestic violence get the help and protection they need to avoid facing the same tragedy that befell Heather Newman and her family.”
The legislators were also joined by Phyllis Adams, Director of Women Aware, Inc., one of the state’s leading domestic violence support and prevention organizations, who supported the three bills.
“The legislation being proposed by Senators Buono, Greenstein and Vitale and Assemblywoman Wagner affords victims of domestic violence greater protections under the law by expanding the parameters for protection for victims, and increasing the penalties and restrictions for perpetrators,” said Adams. “As such, this legislation supports our goal of empowering survivors to seek the justice they deserve, as we provide the comprehensive services that promote healing and a life free of abuse.”
S-331 and S-1031 are awaiting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. S-148 is pending before the Senate Economic Growth Committee.