AUGUSTA, Maine — Some days it seems there is little common ground among Republicans and Democrats at the State House, and the partisan divide can be especially wide in an election year.
But there is at least one area where the two parties have come together this year: domestic violence.
House and Senate leaders from both parties joined Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday as he rolled out his legislative agenda on domestic violence, a problem he has vowed to tackle during his administration.
LePage announced two bills and an executive order designed to make it more difficult for abusers to reoffend.
“It’s because of my past that I’m particularly passionate about this,” the governor said Wednesday, referring to his own experience with domestic violence as a boy growing up in Lewiston.
The first bill, which will be sponsored by House Minority Leader Emily Cain of Orono, would amend the state’s bail code so that a judge, not a bail commissioner, sets bail in certain domestic violence cases. It also gives judges more power to deny bail.
“As many of you know, the governor and I don’t always agree on everything, but we do stand united on our zero tolerance policy for domestic violence,” Cain said. “The scourge of domestic violence is far too common in our state. Only a few days ago, a woman from Bath was nearly stabbed to death by her live-in boyfriend. Her only saving grace was that his knife blade broke before he could issue a final blow.”
The second bill, sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, would prohibit judges from waiving a $25 fee for convicted abusers. That money is used to help victims get back on their feet, but many judges have waived the fee for indigent cases.
Those bills will go to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee for public hearings and debate.
The executive order signed by LePage on Wednesday would create a task force to study the viability of using technology such as electronic monitoring to better track abusers and keep victims safe. That task force would report back by the end of 2012.
LePage said the proposals announced on Wednesday would create additional deterrents for abusers but would not solve the problem.
He said all Mainers, and men in particular, need to do their part to make domestic violence socially unacceptable.
“The bills today are a starting point for the work that lies ahead. It is simply not enough to increase punishment for this kind of crime after it happens,” she said. “We must also work together on comprehensive domestic violence prevention resources and treatment for battered women and their families.”
Although the governor has backed legislation to address the criminal component of domestic violence, his budget proposal for the Department of Health and Human Services sought to cut from many programs that provide resources to domestic violence victims.
Asked about that on Wednesday, LePage said he didn’t propose any cuts to DHHS because he wanted to, only because the state is set to run out of money if those cuts are not made.
Rep. Anne Haskell of Portland, the lead Democrat on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, argued that the governor can propose cuts to any program. The fact that he has urged cuts to prevention and support programs for domestic violence victims reflects a difference in priority, she said.