Topeka Kansans could seek court protection against stalkers or abusive dating partners under an initiative by Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall and several legislators to strengthen domestic violence laws.
At a news conference Wednesday, Stovall and lawmakers from both parties also urged passage of bills to revise the law on mutual protection orders and to raise more money for treating sexual assault victims.
"It absolutely is a critical problem," Stovall said of domestic violence.
One element of the four-bill package addresses who may seek a protective order from a court.
Currently, such orders are granted only if the victim and abuser are married, live together or have a child together. The legislation would allow a person to seek a protective order against an abuser whom he or she is dating.
Another change would allow protective orders from a court against a stalker.
During the news conference, Stovall and Rep. Rocky Nichols, D-Topeka, shared personal stories of the toll of domestic violence.
Stovall said a close friend, a Methodist minister in the Denver area, was killed in 1991, while Nichols' older sister, Risa Schnegelsiepen, was killed last year in Topeka. In both cases, the women were shot by their estranged husbands, who then killed themselves.
"Every day, too many Kansans brave the challenges of being victims of domestic violence," said Nichols, D-Topeka.
More than 17,000 Kansas residents sought services for domestic violence last year. In 1999, the last year for which figures are available, about 20,000 domestic abuse incidents were reported to police across the state.
The proposed changes would make it harder for judges to issue mutual orders of protection, which do not identify one party as an abuser but simply tell two people to stay away from each other.
Advocates contend such mutual orders tell victims that the legal system is not going to help them and are less likely to spur action by law enforcement officers.
"Communities must help hold batterers, abusers and stalkers accountable," said Sandy Barnett, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.
The legislative package also includes a proposed $1 increase in civil court docket fees, to $102. The increase would raise $176,000 for statewide programs for sexual assault victims.