The year to address CDV laws

Victim advocates hold silhouettes representing those who were killed by domestic violence as part of the 17th annual Silent Witness Ceremony held at the Statehouse Tuesday October 7, 2014. (Grace Beahm/File)

Reasonable people can disagree about education, fuel taxes and how to ensure that state government is ethical.

But reasonable people have to agree that it is not acceptable for South Carolina to be the second deadliest state for women.

Judging from the way legislative leaders are talking, the General Assembly is ready to address the disgraceful reality of criminal domestic abuse in the state. Legislators simply must persevere this session to strengthen laws and their enforcement.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is on the bandwagon. He plans to host a rally at the Capitol Tuesday to demand that lawmakers reform the state's domestic violence laws in the coming legislative session.

Also on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Sottile Theatre, The Post and Courier, along with WCIV-TV and the College of Charleston, will host a town hall forum on the fight against domestic violence in South Carolina. It will be televised live on WCIV Channel 4 and partner stations WPDE in Florence and WACH in Columbia. The Post and Courier's "Till death do us part" series, which began in the summer, has provided devastating insights into criminal domestic abuse and spurred demands that authorities take action against it.

So there is plenty of momentum, but reaching a consensus might not be so easy. Some legislators say weak laws aren't the problem, poverty is. Some say the answer is anger management and CDV awareness. Some want to steer clear of introducing guns as part of the discussion, claiming that doing so would only derail progress.

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has filed a bipartisan bill that deserves serious consideration. It would restructure CDV offenses into degrees of severity and provide commensurate penalties; require some abusers to participate in a domestic violence intervention program as a condition of bond; and allow permanent and emergency civil no-contact orders.

And yes, it deals with guns by making S.C. law mirror existing federal law. A person convicted of CDV would be prohibited from having a firearm or ammunition. In addition, restricting the possession of firearms can be a condition of bonds.

Should that notion alarm gun rights advocates, it is the same gun language that conservative Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law after it was passed with the full bipartisan support of that state's Legislature. (Even the National Rifle Association didn't object.) Louisiana ranks just behind South Carolina in the number of women who are killed. And in South Carolina 65 percent of domestic homicides over the past decade were by firearms.

Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, and a member of the special House criminal domestic violence study committee, said the House is working on its own bill that includes provisions for counseling and provides clearer guidelines for granting bonds.

Legislators should be recognize the necessity of stepping up to the CDV challenge. More than 300 women have died in domestic homicides in South Carolina over the past decade, about one killing every 12 days. And men can be victims of CDV as well. It is not limited by gender, social or economic status, age or education.

Sen. Martin said that the time "has never been more right to address this issue," and he acknowledges that media accounts of CDV, like "Till death do us part," have put the subject at the forefront statewide.

The answer to CDV is not just in the Legislature. It will take changes on the part of the judiciary, law enforcement and mental health services as well.

But if the General Assembly passes meaningful legislation to deter and punish domestic abusers, South Carolina will finally be getting serious about shedding its shameful, deadly distinction.