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House sends domestic violence bill to governor

May 09, 2000
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1677

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House Tuesday sent the governor a measure taking several swipes at spouse abuse.

That action highlighted a busy second day of the legislature's last week for 2000, a week that had begun like the rest of the session--uneventful.

Voting almost unanimously, the House passed Columbia Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson's bill requiring insurance companies to pay for damage caused by abusive spouses--a bill the Senate unanimously passed earlier in the day.

"We're very pleased that after all the hard work we passed a bill that identifies those who abuse, intervenes in abuse earlier than before, and gives appropriate consequences for abuse," said Wilson, a Democrat.

Under current law, those guilty of spouse abuse are charged with assault, but in the new legislation--which still awaits an expected signature from Gov. Mel Carnahan--the crime would be dubbed "domestic violence."

Wilson said that designation would allow the state to compile statistics on spouse abuse for the first time. It also would finally allow implementation of the increased penalties for domestic violence the legislature passed in 1998.

The insurance provision under the bill can best be explained by an example: If a spouse damages insured property owned by the couple while committing the crime of domestic violence, the insurance company must reimburse the innocent spouse for the value. To recoup the cost of doing so, the insurance company can sue the guilty spouse.

In the Senate debate, Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, stripped language from the proposal that explicitly allowed the admittance of "excited utterance" evidence during prosecution of domestic violence. "Excited utterance" is an exception to the rules that bar hearsay evidence into courtrooms. The logic is that things said in excitement are more likely to be true.

Jacob said he removed the language because it is allowed implicitly anyway, and it "could be used as a weapon by a bad prosecutor."

That removal caused quite a stir when the bill was returned to the House. The critics said prosecutors need the explicit allowance because domestic violence victims often change their minds and refuse to testify. Under "excited utterance," police can testify at a trial what the victim said at the time of the complaint.

One Republican member urged Wilson to send the bill to conference to get "excited utterance" back in, but Wilson refused saying Jacob would not budge. She said she would rather pass the bill now rather than sacrifice it over one provision.

In the end, all present members voted for the proposal, except for one. That would have been Rep. Martin "Bubs" Hohulin, R-Lamar.

Hohulin said the bill was just "feel good legislation that didn't do anything." He said the legislature should either treat the whole problem, rather than the symptoms, or do nothing at all.

When pressed what he thought would help solve the problem, Bubs had nothing to say.

After passage, a Republican member asked the Speaker to verify the vote, a rarely used procedure where each member's name and and their vote is read aloud. House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, rather than going down the whole list, merely said, "Hohulin, no, everyone else, yes." The chamber, save for Hohulin, burst into laughter.

In other legislative action Tuesday: