Attorney General Chris Koster says of the dozen recommendations, one of them that may seem the most simple may be the most important. He wants legislators to make sure the language used in domestic violence laws isn’t confusing or contradictory.
“For example, ‘adult’ is identified in one section (of the law) as someone 18 years or older. But in another section it’s defined as 17 years or older. Such simple disparities result in confusion throughout the system, leaving officers unsure as to enforcement, court uncertain regarding their jurisdiction, and victims unclear as to their available protections,” Koster said.
Koster says it’s been thirty years since the general assembly made a comprehensive update of domestic violence laws. He says these changes are needed now.
“In 2009, domestic violence programs served 50,000 Missouri citizens and yet for every two women admitted to a shelter in our state, three women had to be turned away because the local shelter had reached its maximum capacity. That need is driven, in part, by gaps in our laws and in those law enforcement systems charged with addressing domestic violence,” Koster said.
Almost half of the recommendations Koster made have to do with filling laws governing orders of protection.
“Orders of protection are the main tools our system provides for those suffering from domestic violence. We’ve identified five specific gaps in the current legislative structure and provided ways to fix them,” Koster said.
A couple of examples: offering judges more discretion in adapting an order of protection, and allowing the orders to be filed against juveniles.
Koster also says he wants to stop repeat offenders from ‘hiding’ in municipal courts.
“Last year we saw laws on the books improved in the area of driving while intoxicated which changed so that municipal courts could not hear cases involving repeat offenders. I recommend the same restrictions now apply to cases involving domestic assaults and violations of orders of protection,” Koster said.
Koster acknowledges that will likely put an extra burden on the state courts, but he says that is the place these issues should be decided. Meantime, he says the state budget isn’t much of an issue
“But unlike so many problems that this state faces, many of the recommendations contained in this report can be accomplished at no cost to the public,” Koster said.