RALEIGH, N.C. — State lawmakers passed four pieces of major legislation aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence this past session of the General Assembly.
But advocates say a fifth bill that has the potential to save hundreds of lives is held up in the Appropriations Committee.
House Bill 44 would make it a felony for offenders who knowingly violate a domestic order more than once. As the law stands, offenders are charged with a felony after violating an order four times.
"This is a lifesaving bill," said Fran Bumgarner, whose 2-1/2-year-old grandson, Kendall Dianis, his mother, Cordae Lee, and her friend, Valerie Gates, were killed July 1, 2002, by Gates' father. "We know that it will save lives."
Alan Gates had been charged nine times in connection with domestic violence or issuing threats, according to court records. But he was found guilty twice; seven other charges were dismissed.
Gates was hiding in the house where his daughter lived with her mother when the three victims returned to the house. Investigators said Gates forced them into a bedroom and shot them to death.
"I know in my heart that Cordae and Kendall and Valerie would still be here with me had that legislation been enforced or had the restraining orders been enforced even before they were murdered," Bumgarner said. "They just were not enforced."
"When someone violates a protective order, that is a red flag to the community, to the court system, that this is an offender we need to take seriously," said Beth Froehling, public policy director with the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "This is someone who can commit a homicide."
Although House Bill 44 has support from lawmakers, they say it also has the potential to put thousands more people in jails and prisons and will cost millions of dollars.
"What we need to do is to figure out how to find the money or how to find ways to make that law more workable," said one of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake.
Advocates hope lawmakers will make the bill a priority when the Legislature convenes in May for its short session.
"We don't need anymore homicides," Bumgarner said. "All it takes is one slap, one hit, one punch, and it can escalate to a homicide in one moment, and we know that to be true."