‘It’s complicated’: Northam vetoes bill that jails repeat domestic abusers for 2 months

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. — The deadline for Gov. Ralph Northam to sign the last bills from this year’s General Assembly session into law is tomorrow. He’s already vetoed more than 20, including one that lawmakers say would have protected survivors of repeat domestic violence.

HB2042, sponsored by Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-District 34), would have put an individual behind bars for at least two months, a mandatory minimum sentence, if they’ve been convicted of assault or battery of a loved one or family member multiple times within a decade. 

While the legislation had support on both sides of the aisle, some point out justice doesn’t look the same for every survivor and their attacker. 

“I didn’t need him to sit in jail, I needed him to get help,” Carol Olson said, recalling how she got out of a bad marriage nearly 20 years ago.

“That relationship, I needed help and I got out. I needed him to get help,” she said. “I wanted him to get help.”

As a survivor of domestic violence, Olson now serves as an advocate for others at the James House in Colonial Heights. Starting as an art therapist, now Olson is the executive director. 

She says each person who comes to the shelter has a different story. 

“Interpersonal violence as a crime is not the same for every survivor and not every survivor looks at it or seeks justice in the same way,” she explained. “Some are going to want minimum sentences, some are going to want their survivor to go to jail… Others, they are going to be into the restorative justice where you want everyone to be healed.”

Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed legislation yesterday that would have created a new mandatory minimum sentence for convicted abusers. In a statement he wrote:

“We rely on our judges and juries to make sound sentencing decisions based on the circumstances of each individual case. In making these decisions, judges and juries consider a number of factors before determining a sentence, and their sentence decisions are the result of intense deliberation. Imposing mandatory minimum sentences eliminates the discretion and ties the hands of the individuals we have entrusted to make these important decisions.”

Some lawmakers were upset by the decision. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert said in a statement that the legislation would have prevented abusers from hurting their victims for at least two months.

“The survivors of abuse, and Virginians as a whole, deserve better,” Del. Gilbert said.

Sources say some lawmakers respected the intent of the bill but thought it could discourage survivors from coming forward to testify because their loved one could be sent to jail. 

For survivors, it’s different for everyone. Olson said while she didn’t pursue charges, a judge that was “progressive for their time” required her abuser to get help and to stay away from her. 

“It’s a complicated issue,” Olson said. “So having just a cookie-cutter approach isn’t going to fit every survivor.”

If you or a loved one needs help or resources, there is help out there. The Virginia Victim Assistance Network hotline is 1-800-838-8238. The hotline can provide you with the nearest shelter, hospital or other resources.

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