State lawmakers on Wednesday called for better protections for victims of domestic violence, including ending the practice of allowing some offenders to receive child support.
Currently, a perpetrator can physically assault a victim, and then she could later be asked to pay him alimony in a divorce court.
The bill specifically states that those “convicted of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, or certain other Class A or B crimes described as sexual or family violence against their spouse” could not receive child support payments.
Superior Court judges already have discretion in these cases, but proponents say it’s not enough.
“There are situations where alimony payment should simply never be considered by the court, and this proposal removes those situations from the court’s discretion,” said Meghan Scanlon, president and chief executive officer of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “The prohibition on awarding child support is not intended to limit the powers of the court, but rather to remove the power of those convicted of the listed crimes to continue to abuse their victim through the legal system.”
The law would help victims “by relieving certain victims of the fear of leaving behind an abusive relationship, providing the victim with means to support themselves and their children, and eliminating abusive litigation in these situations,” he said Scanlon, who testified Wednesday before the Judiciary Committee at the State Capitol complex in Hartford.
But state Rep. Craig Fishbein, a Wallingford attorney who is the senior Republican on the committee, said judges already have a long list of reasons to block alimony, including considering the length of the marriage and reasons for the dissolution .
“Isn’t that already anchored in the law?” Fischbein asked.
Statewide, California passed a similar law, while New Jersey is blocking child support payments for certain criminal convictions.
The story goes on
“A victim should not have to spend time and money in court negotiating something that is unacceptable to the court,” Scanlon said. “This would continually revictimize and re-traumatize the victim by requiring them to prove guilt or the reasons for the marital breakdown, as long as the perpetrator chooses to abuse the legal system in this way.”
Senate Bill 5, which covers the domestic violence provisions, includes funding for victim services, which would be in addition to federal funding. At the federal level, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) fund has a fickle funding stream as it depends on fees and fines levied in connection with federal law enforcement actions. The fund covers cases of stalking, child abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual violence. VOCA served more than 100,000 crime victims in Connecticut during the 2021 federal fiscal year.
The bill provides additional funding of $13.175 million for the current fiscal year and $20 million next year.
The Judiciary Committee has set a deadline of March 31 for all bills generated by the committee. If passed, the measures would be subject to final compromises before the legislative session ends in early June.
Lawmakers are also discussing Senate Bill 3, which aims to protect a patient’s privacy when using online apps and in abortion clinics and doctor’s offices.
Pro-Choice Connecticut state director Liz Gustafson said she supports the bill because of concerns about healthcare privacy.
“While abortion remains legal in Connecticut, we are not immune to the efforts of the global anti-abortion movement to limit or deny access to pregnancy-related care,” Gustafson told the committee. “Now, in this post-Roe world, the serious threat of harm from data breaches is vastly increased. Privacy is non-negotiable.”
She added: “The United States has the highest number of data breaches in the world. … After Dobbs, we no longer speak in hypotheses.”
Among other provisions, the bill would also bar anyone under the age of 16 from setting up a social media account without parental consent.
Advocates point out that online stores, smartwatches, menstrual apps, and search engines often collect detailed personal health information. However, these details are sometimes sold for marketing reasons. However, the bill would prevent companies from selling the health data unless the person gives permission.
But Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Network, said lawmakers passed landmark consumer protection legislation last year, known as Public Act 22-15, and should wait before passing new regulations. The language of the new bill, he said, is so broad when it comes to health that it could be misinterpreted and propagated to retailers as an unintended consequence.
“We are concerned that some of the language under consideration, such as the way consumer healthcare data is described, is too broad and imprecise,” Phelan said in written testimony. “It could therefore be misconstrued to include retailers and retail transactions that go well beyond what consumers think of as health data. It could nonetheless, as this bill is written, be seen as applying to retail products that neither the consumer nor the business understand are in any way related to an individual’s health.”
Christopher Keating can be reached at email@example.com