Domestic violence bill advances

COLUMBIA — A S.C. Senate proposal to overhaul the state’s domestic violence laws wriggled past a key hurdle Wednesday largely unscathed despite a push to strip or weaken the bill’s firearms measures.

The often contentious back and forth between members of the Senate Judiciary Committee portends what is likely to be a contentious road for the domestic violence bill on the Senate floor. While senators put up dozens of amendments — largely dealing with the gun provisions — the bill was passed on a 19-2 vote after around five hours of debate.

Sens. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, and Tom Corbin, R-Travelers Rest, voted against moving the bill to the Senate floor. They had voiced concerns that the bill was overreaching and failed to protect batterers’ Second Amendment gun rights.

“We in state government have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in South Carolina, and tragically, that too often ends up being members of an abuser’s household,” said Judiciary Chairman Sen. Larry Martin, the bill’s sponsor, in a statement. “South Carolina has been among the worst in the nation in domestic violence for far too long, and I’m hopeful the full Senate will address this bill quickly.”

The domestic violence bill includes a provision that would take guns from anyone convicted of a domestic violence charge. Federal law already includes the ban, but South Carolina doesn’t have its own legislation to enforce it or ensure that abusers comply.

Martin’s bill also would take away the gun rights of anyone who has had a protective order in a domestic violence case against him.

Guns were used in 64 percent of all domestic violence killings of women in South Carolina over the last 10 years, a Post and Courier analysis has found as part of a series on the issue called “Till Death Do Us Part.”

Aside from the gun provisions, Martin’s bill restructures criminal domestic violence laws into a tiered system of degrees based on the severity of the crime, with escalating penalties that range from 30 days in jail to 10 years in prison. It also requires those charged with domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature to attend a batterer-intervention program and allows courts to grant permanent no-contact orders to prevent abusers from harassing victims, among other provisions.

Laura Hudson, a prominent victim’s advocate, praised Martin, R-Pickens, and Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, for guiding the bill past several mine fields. Weakening or stripping the bill of its gun measures was seen as an effort by the bill’s proponents to gut the bill in its entirety.

Hudson said she knows gun proponents will use procedural hurdles to slow the bill. She said Martin was smart to move the bill early in the legislative session.

“It will give us time,” Hudson said.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.