By Rep. Anita Kulik
On July 22, people gathered at Settlers Cabin Park to celebrate the life of Alina Sheykhet, the young Pitt student who was brutally murdered by her former boyfriend despite getting a Protection from Abuse Order against him. Over the years, Alina's family has strongly and successfully raised awareness of domestic violence. Most notably, Alina's parents have lobbied for a law that would strengthen PFA Orders.
Too often, PFA orders do too little to protect victims of domestic violence. There are those who refuse to recognize the force of law and who are consumed by their hatred. This is when victims suffer the most. They went through the emotional trauma of being abused, and the turmoil of initial court proceedings to obtain a PFA, only to suffer further physical violence or, in cases such as Alina's, the loss of life.
I have introduced Alina’s Law in the state house, along with a colleague from Washington County. I have introduced this in the past but unfortunately, those who were in charge of reviewing such legislation did not allow the bill to progress. Now, after several sessions, we are finally garnering interest in the bill from the House Judiciary Committee.
Alina’s Law proposes to give judges the discretion to impose electronic tracking in cases where there is evidence that the defendant will violate the PFA Order. Washington County has a program in place that has successfully saved lives.
One life lost to domestic violence is one life too many. This being the most serious problem, there are other areas that the laws can be strengthened to help victims. Progress is being made to bolster our domestic violence laws. The house has recently passed two bills that will help victims deal with problems that occur when they must flee their homes.
House Bill 1210 will allow a judge to award temporary ownership rights over a companion animal as part of a protection order or consent agreement to bring about a cessation of abuse to a plaintiff or minor children.
Many times pets are "held hostage" in abusive situations. Victims feel unable to leave an abusive home for fear of harm to their pet. Victims may leave a home but are unable to take the pet with them. HB 1210 will alleviate the mental harm done by abusers who seek to manipulate victims.
Victims of domestic violence will flee their residences in search of safety and must do so without being able to consider important things that they should take with them. Important documents are often left behind.
House Bill 544 would amend Title 23 (Domestic Relations) to allow for the waiver of fees for corrected or duplicate state documents. Victims of abuse who meet the criteria of the bill will be eligible to have the fees waived by the Department of Transportation for duplicate or corrected titles, licenses, ID cards, and registrations.
Fees would also be waived by the Department of Health for certified copies of birth certificates.
The house continues to introduce legislation to help victims of domestic violence. During my career as a lawyer, I handled many domestic litigation cases. I even had a case where my client was shot. I volunteered to handle PFA cases and saw the pain and injuries suffered by the victims of domestic violence. I am pleased that the bills I mentioned have been sent to the Senate for consideration. I hope that Alina's Law will someday be considered by the House, and other bills, designed to protect victims, will advance in the future.