House Speaker Matthew Ritter said he expected the chamber to vote Friday on the well-publicized domestic violence reform bill known as “Jennifers’ Law” because it was widely supported — not as a result of personal attacks on Judiciary Committee members in an email from would-be advocates.
RItter was angered by the tone of the email sent by Connecticut Protective Moms Tuesday, which accused him and several other legislators of backpedaling their support because they work for law firms that litigate family court proceedings. The groundbreaking bill, SB 1091, would expand the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control in all family court proceedings upon passage.
“It seems more and more in politics that there’s a new tactic where you send nasty emails,” said Ritter, who called the missive part of a “scorched earth” trend encouraged by the internet. “We are very supportive of this bill,” said Ritter, who later added, “No one is blocking the bill because they are corrupt.”
Concern that three women have died in violent domestic incidents since the Senate passed the bill on May 18 drove Betsy Keller, the group’s founder, to call out House leaders over the lack of scheduling for a vote, she said.
Keller later backtracked with an apology and a mention of gratitude for the lawmakers who supported the legislation.
“We are appreciative of all supporting lawmakers for your efforts to assist with getting Jennifers’ Law – SB 1091 across the finish line,” Keller said in a second email issued Wednesday. “Since the Senate passed SB 1091 this session, three additional Connecticut mothers have been murdered at the hands of their abusers they were fleeing. Each day we wait to vote on this bill is another day someone is harmed.”
Under the state’s definition of domestic violence, judges cannot consider acts of coercive control unless they rise to physical harm – a fact that has prevented some victims from obtaining restraining orders. The bill would expand the definition to include coercive control, which encompasses behaviors such as threats, intimidation and withholding resources to allow a person to live independently or leave the relationship.
Sen. Alex Kasser, D-Greenwich, and Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Windham, worked on language to address issues brought up by domestic violence providers. The bill passed the Senate in a 35 to 1 vote, but was not immediately slated for a House debate when Keller decided to take action.
“I am grateful to the Speaker for standing with DV survivors and bringing this groundbreaking legislation to a vote,” Kasser said Thursday after Ritter announced the bill would be up for a vote Friday afternoon. “If it passes the House, is signed by the governor and enforced by the courts, I have no doubt this law will save lives. It ensures that all victims of domestic abuse, who are primarily women and children, are heard, believed and protected. None of us are free until all of us are free.”
The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates that the legislation could increase the number of restraining orders sought annually by 4,000. That, in turn, could trigger a need for more clerks and family relations counselors at a cost of about $1 million a year.
The proposed law would also provide free legal counseling to low-income victims at the five judicial districts that see the most requests for restraining orders: Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford and Waterbury. It sets a standard for “vexatious litigation” – a common tactic used by abusers in court proceedings. The bill provides guidance to judges by defining what to consider in custody cases including allegations of domestic violence, and the physical and emotional safety of parties when deciding custody and visitation.
The bill is unofficially named after Jennifer Dulos who is presumed dead after disappearing in 2019 while she was embroiled in an acrimonious divorce and custody battle and Jennifer Magnano who was killed by her husband in 2007.