By MARK MILLER
Capital News Service
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown championed Maryland's efforts to crack down on domestic violence and offer support to abuse victims at a panel hosted by Vice President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.
"There are a lot of things we're doing in Maryland to fight domestic violence, and a lot of that is dependent on the Violence Against Women Act," said Brown, whose cousin Cathy was killed by an estranged boyfriend in 2008.
Without the VAWA, Brown said, there would be no funding for programs such as the hospital-based domestic violence programs, currently operated by six medical facilities throughout Maryland, that screen patients and train staff to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and provide specialized treatment. The state also provides electronic notifications of protective orders with federal grant money associated with the act.
(RCISCC) Executive Director Janice Kispert said it is important that the act is reauthorized.
"VAWA’s programs support state and local efforts to address the pervasive and insidious crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking," Kispert said. "These programs have made great progress towards keeping victims safe and holding perpetrators accountable. This critical legislation must be reauthorized to ensure the continued response to these crimes."
The White House panel, as well as a news conference among Senate women on Capitol Hill, was part of a push Wednesday designed to pressure reluctant members of Congress to reauthorize VAWA, which was first approved in 1994.
Thomas, who headed Montgomery County's domestic violence unit from 1997 until his retirement from the force in 2000, said he was spurred to combat domestic abuse after witnessing a man shoot and kill his wife.
"It was clear that something needed to be done," Thomas said.
Thomas described a "sea change" in attitudes toward domestic violence and the ability of law enforcement officers to respond since VAWA's passage. From an average of 69 domestic homicides per year before the law took effect, the number of such killings in Maryland dropped to 27 last year, he said.
VAWA provides resources for coordinated community approaches to dealing with violence against women, Kispert said. It helps to improve collaboration between law enforcement and victim services providers to help better meet the needs of victims.
"These comprehensive and cost-effective programs save money and most importantly, save lives," Kispert said. "In fact, VAWA saved nearly $12.6 billion in net averted social costs in its first six years."
Brown called on Congress to reauthorize the act, warning that failure to do so could compromise the state government's efforts.
"I urge Congress to reauthorize VAWA so that we may continue life-saving efforts throughout Maryland and take another step towards eliminating this senseless crime," Brown said.
Then-Sen. Biden, D-Del., was the lead VAWA sponsor in the Senate in 1994. Congress has since reauthorized the act twice, in 2000 and 2005.
Congressional Republicans have balked at additional measures Democrats say are necessary to expand the protections granted by the law. Some Republicans in the Senate, where the bill to reauthorize VAWA has eight Republican cosponsors, have accused Democrats of attaching provisions opposed by many conservatives in a deliberate effort to stall the bill for political gain.
According to Kispert, RCIS is not currently receiving VAWA funding. They did receive VAWA funding last year to support a part-time outreach coordinator but due to limited funding availability, Kispert said the grant application was not renewed this year, resulting in the elimination of the position.
Westminster Patch local editor Kym Byrnes contributed to this story.