ATLANTA — A bill to hold repeat offenders of family violence more accountable recently passed the Georgia Senate with unanimous support and awaits a vote in the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 193 would make a first charge of family violence battery a felony if the offender has been charged with a similar violent family act before, whether in another state or in a charge that was eventually pleaded out.
According to District 27 Sen. Michael Williams, a Cumming Republican who represents most of Forsyth County, the bill stemmed from an incident in which a man beat his wife to death and was convicted of manslaughter.
However, as part of the deal he made with the prosecutor, the domestic violence charge was dropped in exchange for him pleading guilty to manslaughter.
“He served his time, and then he got out and he beat another women after that,” Williams said. “Not to death, fortunately, but because on his first conviction they dropped the domestic violence off, they couldn’t treat that second as a felony. So they could only charge him with a misdemeanor.”
This bill, sponsored by District 54 Republican state Sen. Charlie Bethel, will make a repeat offender more likely to be charged with a felony, no matter a previous plea bargain.
Williams said a position in the Georgia Republican Party caucus is to protect women and children.
“I really don’t see how anybody can vote against that,” he said.
Shandra Dawkins, executive director of Family Haven of Forsyth County, a nonprofit shelter and women and children who are victims of domestic violence, said she supports the bill.
“It would help close a gap in existing Georgia law and give prosecutors more tools to hold repeat domestic violence offenders accountable,” she said.
Dawkins added that legislation like this is a first step to better protection that should also include longer probation terms.
“We must not be driven from a reactive framework and wait for a crime to be committed,” she said, “but begin to explore a more proactive approach to work toward eradication of family violence in the lives of victims of domestic violence and those at risk of abuse.”