Palmetto Sunrise: Veteran legislator displeased with changes made to domestic violence bill

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter and Rep. Seth Whipper at the South Carolina Statehouse on June 3, 2014. Grace Beahm/Staff

COLUMBIA — One the state’s veteran House members did not vote for the criminal domestic violence measure that passed that chamber on Wednesday, because she said some of the changes made for “bad public policy.”

The bill that passed was a compromise between the House and Senate versions. It would strengthen criminal penalties, ban batterers from possessing guns and require students to be educated in its prevention, according to the Post and Courier’s Jeremy Borden. It takes aim at the epidemic of domestic violence that has made South Carolina one of the deadliest states in the country for women at the hands of men.

But Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a social worker who has worked extensively on domestic violence issues, was critical of at least two components in the compromise of the bill. The Orangeburg Democrat chose to not vote for the bill as a result.

One part that bothered her was the decision to place solicitors in charge of picking who gets to run batterers’ intervention programs instead of the Department of Social Services. She questioned the experience of solicitors in the matter.

“That’s a treatment issue,” Cobb-Hunter said. “That’s not a prosecution issue. It’s a social policy issue.”

She added that staffing issues at DSS prevented the agency from running the batterers’ intervention programs adequately. Providing the agency with enough money to do its job should’ve been the state’s response — not taking the program away — she said.

“What sense does it make to move a program that is aimed at treatment and hopefully reunification of families to prosecutors,” Cobb-Hunter asked. “It’s continuing to make DSS the scapegoat. DSS is in charge of families, whether we like it or not.”

Cobb-Hunter’s second concern related to the changes the compromise made to the gun ban. Because the compromise was struck in the last week between members of both chambers, she was unclear on what it entailed.

“I just thought it was best for me to not vote,” Cobb-Hunter said. “There was no clarity for me on the gun language.”

The bill that passed allows prosecutors and judges to plead charges down to assault and battery — which would avoid a gun ban. They also allow a judge discretion on whether to strip a batterer of their gun rights for lower-level offenses.

In other news:

House approves giving attorney general greater state grand jury authority (The Post and Courier)

Lowcountry lawmakers lay the groundwork for decriminalizing medical marijuana (The Post and Courier)

Body camera bill on hold until lawmakers hammer out differences (The Post and Courier)

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