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Editorial: A practical tool to help fight domestic violence

Who could remain unmoved by the sight of Becky Ranes testifying before state legislators last week? Ranes is the mother of 9-year-old Joshua Savyon who was killed in a murder-suicide by his father last year. She had come to the State House to urge lawmakers to wring a bit of good from her heinous loss: a new law that just might help prevent such tragedies in the future.

The legislation in question, called Joshua’s Law, is a modest, practical tool to help law enforcement officials better deal with some of the worst crimes they encounter. It would put New Hampshire in line with most other states. It is neither partisan nor overreaching. There is no reason why the Legislature and Gov. Maggie Hassan shouldn’t quickly get behind it.

Joshua’s Law would create domestic violence as its own category of crime, differentiating for lawyers, judges and the public the difference between someone accused of menacing a family member and someone brawling at a bar. Under current law, both suspects would be charged with the same crime, both would end up with the same criminal record.

Under the new proposal, penalties wouldn’t change, but prosecutors and judges would gain critical information for setting bail or release conditions. They would be able to see patterns of behavior – domestic violence, after all, is rarely a one-time occurrence. And by providing intervention services – through treatment or jail – officials might just be able to halt an escalation of violence, a pattern that is sometimes difficult to perceive under current law but is common in domestic violence situations.

The issue is not insignificant. At last week’s hearing Deputy Attorney General Anne Rice noted that domestic violence is involved in half of the homicides committed in New Hampshire and 92 percent of the murder-suicides.

A 2010 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that at least 40 percent of women in New Hampshire had been victims of intimate partner violence including rape, physical violence and/or stalking.

The new New Hampshire law might not have saved Ranes’s son, but it has the potential to stop other would-be abusers before their actions turn deadly. It deserves swift approval.

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