ATLANTA - A bipartisan bill with the unanimous passage in both the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives would literally save lives according to experts and the state representative who wrote it.
State Rep. Houston Gaines of Athens sponsored House Bill 231, which would add protections for dating violence victims in Georgia.
"It was something that I felt passionately about, protecting victims of dating violence and domestic violence," says Rep. Gaines.
The Republican says many advocates reached out to him and explained the importance of the dating violence issue. He says that's why he teamed up with other legislators and bipartisan groups to create the bill.
Under Georgia's current law, a temporary protective order (TPO) requires both parties involved to either be living in the same household, be parents of the same child, or be previously married. This is under the family violence statute.
House Bill 231 would create a new dating violence statute that would only require both people to be in a dating relationship currently or in the last 6 months, or have a pregnancy developed. It would no longer require the abuser and victim to already have a child, live in the same home, or be previously married in order to file for the TPO.
State Rep. Gaines says, "It will make sure victims of dating violence have the same protections that other victims do in our state. Frankly, it's a gap in Georgia law."
Family violence attorney Vicky Kimbrell agrees. She says, "Georgia is catching up to what other states do to protect victims of domestic violence."
Kimbrell says over the last year, domestic violence calls for help have increased by 46%. That's in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kimbrell says, "The pandemic has been a twin plague for our clients. They are stuck at home, they're not able to, a lot of time, get the housing that they need. Other victims have lost their job and lost the ability to go out and earn their own living to be able to escape the violence."
Kimbrell also says during the pandemic, resources for victims have deplenished. "We are advocating on behalf of our clients to keep them safe from the domestic violence; safe from the pandemic. And also we're advocating for the holistic resources they need like healthcare and TANF and SNAP; all the resources they need to keep themselves financially independent from their abusers."
Temporary protective orders offer more protections than a restraining order. They do order the abuser to stay away of course but also help the victim in other ways depending on the situation. If children are involved, it could help with child custody. Sometimes it can also help with having property returned. In other situations, it may help remove the abuser from the victim's home.
House Bill 231 would also allow judges to order the abuser to seek counseling or participate in educational programs through the state.
The stark reality revealed by data is that many domestic violence victims are killed before they can escape their abusers.
Kimbrell says, "The issue that brought teen dating to our attention... is a fatality report that shows how many victims of domestic violence meet their abusers from the time they are 13 to 20 and then ends up fatalities. So that brought to our attention that we really need to focus on teen dating violence as a preventative measure."
While House Bill 231 is focused on dating violence, minors are not currently included. But State Rep. Gaines says that is something he plans to address in the next legislative session.
Regardless, the message about this bill from State Rep. Gaines is a simple one: "There's no doubt that states that have proactively added dating violence have seen a decrease in intimate partner homicide so I think this legislation is literally gonna save lives."
FOX 5 reached out to Governor Brian Kemp's office about House Bill 231. Officials say "All bills passed by the legislature are now undergoing legal review." According to the Georgia General Assembly website, the final bill was sent to the governor on April 7, exactly one week after it received unanimous passage.
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