Area state rep introduces bill for third time to protect domestic violence survivors

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

A Butler County state representative is hoping the third time’s a charm on her bipartisan proposal that would provide greater legal protections to survivors of domestic violence and require police officers to perform improved risk assessments when called to the scene.

The bill, named Aisha’s Law after the late Aisha Fraser, a Cleveland-area woman who was killed by her ex-husband in 2018, has stalled twice now in the Senate after overwhelming, bipartisan support in the House.

The Senate’s inaction has been frustrating to Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, and bill cosponsor Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, who held a press conference Wednesday to promote the bill’s reintroduction.

“I have been passionate about this because my own mother was beaten and raped by her second husband,” Carruthers said. “Far too many individuals continue to be abused and live in fear and that is why it is so critical that we pass House Bill 486 and make Ohio safer.”

The bill would:

• Require police officers who answer domestic violence complaints to perform risk assessment screenings to determine the level of risk the victim faces in their home;

• Train police officers to have an intervention technique that would connect domestic violence survivors to advocacy programs;

• Expand the offense of child endangering to include instances of domestic violence when a child is present;

• Expand the offense of aggravated murder (purposeful murder with “prior calculation and design” under current law) to include any domestic violence murder.

Maria York, the executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, said that the risk assessment screening portion of the bill is critical. York noted that Cuyahoga County adopted a similar policy eight years ago and now “stands out” compared to other metro areas when it comes to domestic violence murders.

“Aisha’s Law is making sure that every county in Ohio is going to do the same evidence-based risk assessment to ensure that all survivors throughout Ohio are being linked to resources to ultimately reduce domestic violence homicides,” York said.

Statewide, York relayed that there were 112 domestic violence homicides last year, including 22 children who lost their lives. Groups partnered with the ODVN sheltered just under 10,000 domestic violence survivors and their children.

Data from Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation showed that Ohio police responded to 66,665 domestic disputes in 2022 and 68,796 domestic disputes in 2023. In each year, about half of those disputes led to either a charge or consent order.

At a local level, calls to Dayton’s Artemis Center, a domestic violence shelter, have sprung back after a brief suppression during the pandemic. “As things started opening up, we really saw an increase in calls, and not only an increase in calls, but an increase of people reporting severe violence: strangulation, hostage (situations), all of that,” said Jane Keiffer, the shelter’s executive director.

In Butler County, the YWCA moved and expanded its domestic violence shelter, going from the ability to temporarily house only seven families to the ability to now shelter 15 families.

Wendy Waters-Connell, CEO of the Hamilton YWCA, said none of the 15 units have sat vacant for longer than an hour or so.

“We no sooner have a family placed (in a new apartment) and within hours we have another survivor coming in (for shelter),” she said.

In the last General Assembly, Aisha’s Law was approved 92-4 by the House. In its journey through the lower chamber, it largely received support in public testimony, except from public defenders, who worried about expanding aggravated murder charges, among other things.

Kevin Werner, policy director for the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, testified against the bill on the grounds that an expanded aggravated murder offense could lead to more state-sanctioned death penalties.

“OJPC is not indifferent to the impact on families this kind of violence imparts. On the contrary, it is because the devastating, long-term impact the death penalty system has on murder victim family members — sometimes called ‘co-victims’ — that we oppose any expansion of the offense of aggravated murder,” Werner testified.

The bill ultimately stalled in a Senate committee without public testimony. Carruthers said she received no feedback from Senate leadership on why the bill wasn’t moved forward. In fact, a portion of the bill that defined strangulation and enhanced police protocols was lifted from Aisha’s Law and folded into a Senate bill that later passed — leaving the rest of Aisha’s Law untouched.

“I personally believe a lot of people don’t feel it’s that big an issue,” Carruthers said, who noted that she believes the bill has fallen victim to gamesmanship between the House and the Senate.

Brent, who is cosponsoring the bill for the first time, said she’s optimistic that the bill will make its way through the Senate this time around, given that many prior House members in favor of the bill have moved over to the Senate.

“They have seen the committee hearings, they’ve voted for it on the floor, so now I’m a little more hopeful. And hopefully we’re just going to push it forward,” Brent said.

Staff writer London Bishop contributed to this report.

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Avery Kreemer can be reached at 614-981-1422, on X, via email, or you can drop him a comment/tip with the survey below.

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