Bills Sponsored by Assembly members Mosquera, Singleton, Moriarty and Lampitt to Establish a New Crime of Committing an Act Domestic Violence in front of Children and Provides Access to temporary Housing for Pregnant Women in Certain Crises
(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gabriela Mosquera, Troy Singleton, Paul Moriarty and Pamela Lampitt to increase protections for victims of domestic violence in New Jersey by making it a crime to commit an act of domestic violence in the presence of children and directing an agency to find voluntary temporary placement for expecting moms and children who are not safe at home due to a crisis situation.
“Both measures are critical to ensuring domestic violence victims are better protected by law going forward,” said Mosquera (D-Camden, Gloucester), who is sponsor of both bills. “By creating new law which holds domestic violence offenders accountable for their actions in front of children, we send the message that domestic violence, especially in the presence of children, is abhorrent and will not be tolerated under New Jersey law.”
“A victim of domestic violence is not just the individual who is terrorized but it is every person in that household witnessing those acts of terror,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “We want domestic violence offenders to understand that a crime against an individual is also a horrific crime against an innocent child in the room.”
Under the current law, a person commits an act of domestic violence if the person commits one or more of acts of homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, or stalking upon a person protected under the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991.
The first bill (A-1197), sponsored by Mosquera, Singleton, Moriarty and Lampitt, would provide that when the act of domestic violence is committed in the presence of a child to whom the actor or the victim is a parent, guardian, or resource family parent, the person committing the act would be subject to criminal prosecution for both the underlying offense and for the separate crime of committing an act of domestic violence in the presence of a child. However, the bill would not require the person be convicted of the underlying offense to be convicted of committing an act of domestic violence in the presence of a child. The bill requires the child to be 16 years of age or younger.
“The most heartbreaking of stories are those of the children of domestic violence,” said Moriarty (D-Camden, Gloucester). “Innocent children who witness acts of domestic violence are impacted for life. They experience the same fear and danger as the victim. It should be a crime. With this legislation, it becomes one.”
“Any act of domestic violence committed in the company of children should a crime,” said Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “This legislation will strengthen state law and give law enforcement and the courts an additional tool to be able to effectively prosecute these offenders.”
The crime would be a crime of the fourth degree if underlying offense is a disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense, otherwise it would be graded one degree higher that the most serious underlying offense.
The second bill (A-1198), sponsored by Mosquera, provides for an approved agency, which is an agency approved by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to place children for adoption in New Jersey, to facilitate the voluntary temporary placement of an infant, child, parent under 21 years of age with an infant, or pregnant woman under 21 years of age in the home of a volunteer, who is to provide a temporary home during the time that the parent of the infant or child or the pregnant woman is in crisis.
Under the bill, a “crisis” is defined as a temporary situation which includes, but is not limited to, homelessness, hospitalization, substance abuse or mental health issues, domestic violence, unemployment, any situation which would leave a child or infant with no parent or guardian available to care for the child or infant, or any situation which would leave a pregnant woman under 21 years of age with no safe home to reside in during pregnancy.
An approved agency is to enter into a contract with DCF prior to facilitating the placements. These agencies are also to: provide oversight of a placement by visiting the home weekly; provide assistance to help guide the parent or pregnant woman in restoring a stable life; and locate a different voluntary temporary placement if, as determined by the approved agency, a change is necessary.
The bill also amends the law governing confidentiality of information in the State’s child abuse registry to permit disclosure of the information to a prospective volunteer seeking to provide a temporary home under the bill and a person 18 years of age or older residing in the home.
Both measures were approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee. They now await further consideration by the Assembly Speaker.