Governor signs bill to fight domestic abuse backed by Manatee-Sarasota group

skennedy@bradenton.comApril 28, 2012 

BRADENTON -- A local group was celebrating Friday after Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill it had supported to fight domestic abuse.

The governor signed H.B. 701, which is designed to provide a sharper tool for those prosecuting batterers.

It provides exceptions to the "hearsay rule," allowing domestic violence victims' statements outside the courtroom to others, like police or 911 operators, to be used as evidence in court in some circumstances.

The governor said it is an important time to "remember those lives affected by violence," adding, "We will continue to work to keep our communities safe, so that fewer people are victims of crime."

Scott's decision shows Florida is moving in the right direction, said Susan McMillan, who counsels violent abusers as part of her work as executive director for Bradenton's Domestic Abuse Intervention Project.

"It's a real cause for celebration because it has such wide-ranging effects," said McMillan, who was among a group of Manatee and Sarasota lawmakers, prosecutors and citizens who helped to write and pass the bill.

"It's much more than a local victory, it's a statewide victory," she said.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, a sponsor of the companion bill, said, "It's something that

needed to be done -- other states have done it.

"Just because someone doesn't want to testify doesn't mean a battering didn't take place," he added.

The new law changes the rules of evidence that govern court cases, allowing "hearsay" statements made by the victim to be admissible as evidence in some instances.

Now, calls to 911 operators and statements to police, hospital and social workers can be admitted into evidence at the discretion of the trial judge.

Previously, a victim had to face the abuser in court in order for the charges to move forward; often, the abusers dissuade them from testifying, officials have said.

Due to battered-woman syndrome, 80 percent to90 percent of victims have been unable or unwillingto cooperate in the prosecution of their attackers, according to state Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, who co-sponsored the bill in the House.

The governor also signed HB 1099, Legislation expanding protections for victims of stalkers, and HB 1193, Legislation ensuring personal information of victims of domestic or sexual violence is protected in court proceedings.

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