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(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, Assemblywoman Linda R. Greenstein, Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver and Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer on Wednesday announced they’ve introduced legislation to better protect victims of domestic violence and their children.

The legislation (A-3137) would create a risk assessment pilot program and is entitled “Monica’s Law,” in memory of thirty-one year old Monica Paul who, on June 26, 2008, was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend, Kenneth Duckett, in front of their 11-year old daughter at a Montclair YMCA. Paul had recently obtained a restraining order against Mr. Duckett.

“Domestic violence risk assessments will provide judges with vital information in order to accurately assess if future harm will come to victims and their children,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). “Monica Paul’s family has been the driving force behind this legislation. I admire them for their strength and determination to not only help Monica’s children deal with this horrible tragedy but to also help prevent something like this from happening to others.”

“The issues surrounding domestic violence are complex and each case is unique,” said Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Conducting risk assessments when children’s visitation and custody is involved will help keep victims and their families safe.”

“The passage of Monica’s Law is so important,” said Joanne Paul, Monica’s mother. “We must bring the light of hope into the darkness of domestic violence and pass tougher laws, which will ultimately save many precious lives.”

“These victims have already been grievously hurt by the actions of their abuser,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these abusers cannot visit further harm on their victims through their children. The risk assessment screenings will go a long way toward doing just that.”

“When a restraining order is issued in a domestic violence case, it is usually because of repeated, documented cases of abuse,” said Spencer (D-Essex/Union). “In these instances, another episode is more a matter of ‘when’ than ‘if.’ The protections offered to victims by this pilot program would help save lives.”

Under the bill, a pilot program would be established in Essex and Passaic counties to provide risk assessment – prior to awarding visitation rights – in all cases where a final domestic violence restraining order has been issued and the victim and the abuser have a child in common.

The risk assessment would examine the likelihood that the person against whom the final restraining order is issued will commit an act of violence against the victim or against the child which the actor and victim have in common, performed by a qualified, licensed professional.

Anyone filing a domestic violence complaint under the pilot program would be required to complete a questionnaire that would include information on:

· Whether the victim and the alleged actor have any children together;

· Whether the alleged actor has ever used or threatened to use a weapon; and

· Whether the alleged actor has ever made specific threats of violence against the victim or their children.

The completed questionnaire would be attached to the domestic violence complaint and would be considered by the court hearing the matter.

“Risk assessment and risk management is critical to effective intervention with family members experiencing domestic violence,” said Mary Houtsma, executive director, Essex County Family Justice Center. “I applaud the sponsors for tackling this issue.”

“Witnessing domestic violence inflicts emotional injuries on a child and puts children at higher risk for being physically victimized themselves,” said Keri Logosso, executive director, Wynona’s House Child Advocacy Center. “The risk assessment proposed in Monica’s Law seeks to break the cycle of violence and is an important step towards keeping children safe and healthy.”

A risk assessment would be ordered by the court in all of the following cases:

· The defendant, in the course of committing the act of domestic violence, used or threatened to use a weapon on the plaintiff or on a child;

· The defendant, in the course of committing the act of domestic violence, threatened to kill the plaintiff or a child;

· The plaintiff has expressed a belief that the defendant will attempt to kill the plaintiff or a child;

· The defendant has previously harmed or threatened to cause physical or emotional harm or neglect to a child;

· The plaintiff has expressed the belief that the defendant will attempt to abduct the child;

· The defendant has physically harmed the plaintiff, including such acts as chocking or suffocating the plaintiff;

· The defendant has sexually assaulted the plaintiff; and

· Any other actions that may be considered domestic violence and/or child abuse by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Risk assessments would be mandatory in cases where there has been a violation of a domestic violence restraining order or when an issue of child visitation rights is present.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee chaired by Greenstein.