The first proposed law has been filed in what is expected to be a major effort this coming year to end South Carolina’s status as the deadliest place for women in the nation, a rate far higher than in other Southern states.

National ranking of Southern states for women killed by men in domestic violence. (Rate per 100,000 women)

National rank Rate

1. South Carolina 2.54

6. Tennessee 1.80

9. Louisiana 1.67

12. Georgia 1.58

13. Mississippi 1.57

17. Arkansas 1.34

19. Texas 1.32

22. North Carolina 1.23

26. Kentucky 1.13

33. Virginia 0.97

National Average 1.17

No Data for Alabama and Florida.

Source: Violence Policy Center,Washington, D.C.

Domestic violence

The bill would increase the penalty for first-time domestic violence from 30 days to 180 days, an increase that women’s support groups say is necessary to make offenders realize the seriousness of the crime.

The bill also would give judges the power to set bonds high enough to deter repeat offenses.

Currently, first-time offenders can get out on no bond or low bond and return home without fear of stiff consequences.

Bond currently is capped at no more than $5,000 on a first charge of criminal domestic violence.

Elmire Raven, executive director of My Sister’s House, a North Charleston shelter for abused women, said Wednesday that her organization and a statewide coalition of similar groups support the measure.

“Any increase in time is helpful. Every little bit helps,” Raven said. She said longer stays behind bars allow time for the abuser’s immediate anger to pass and may act as a deterrent.

The bill was pre-filed by state Rep. Bakari Sellers, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. The Democrat from Denmark previously said the state needs tougher domestic violence laws to curb the state’s status as ranking No. 1 in women killed by men in domestic situations.

South Carolina’s rate of 2.5 deaths from domestic violence per 100,000 women is more than double that of the national average and far higher than all other Southern states except for Tennessee, which came in with the nation’s 6th worst rate of 1.8 killings. Georgia ranked 12th worst and North Carolina came in at 22nd. The study was released in September by the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Council.

Sellers pointed out that South Carolina also ranks as the 5th most violent state. “We must work harder to prevent criminal domestic violence in South Carolina and also make the penalties more severe for those who do break the law,” he said.

In Charleston, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said government alone is not the solution to domestic violence: “There has to be a cultural shift and community intervention. ... Re-establishing the value and importance of a loving family and showing that battering is unacceptable has to come from within the community.”

David M. Pascoe, solicitor for Dorchester, Orangeburg and Calhoun counties, said he supports strengthening the penalties for domestic violence. He said the bill would “give the judges more options on how to sentence an offender and it may act as a deterrent since offenders know they are looking at potentially more time and a higher bond that could keep them in jail.”

Attorney General Alan Wilson has made combating domestic violence a department priority. He recently told The Post and Courier he wants to see the state’s laws changed to keep domestic abusers locked up longer. He also said that bond reform is one essential tool.

Assistant Attorney General Kelly Hall, who heads Wilson’s effort to crack down on domestic violence, said about 30,000 cases of criminal domestic violence occur each year in the state. It’s hard to know which abusers will end up killers, but each case must be treated seriously, she said.

One important tool to do that is higher bonds so that the courts can keep abusers locked up pending trial, Hall said. That’s the best way to help victims in the short run. “It might be a cooling off.”

Sellers’ bill also would require domestic abuse counseling and ban guns from those convicted on the charge or subject to a court protective order. Those convicted would be required to surrender all firearms to the local sheriff.

Guns are the weapon of choice in the majority of domestic violence killings in South Carolina and in the nation.

Reach Doug Pardue at 937-5558.