Experts ask for more time to recommend changes to state’s family violence law

Police and hospital staff get limited training in the contradictory and complex statute as it stands, CYFD says

By: - September 29, 2021 5:32 am

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Officials in charge of compensating survivors of violent crime are asking for more time to come up with changes to state law governing domestic violence.

In 2020, lawmakers passed Senate Memorial 50, which asked the New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission to create a task force to review and update the Family Violence Protection Act. Lawmakers asked the commission to take the lead because it already provides money to violent crime survivors and convenes the state’s intimate partner violence review team.

The law creates the three kinds of protection orders available to survivors of domestic violence: It requires police to respond to and protect them, defines what domestic abuse is, and requires anyone who is a threat to members of their household to give up their guns to police, among other provisions.

The commission is the state agency tasked with helping victims — including domestic violence survivors — cover costs for funerals, rent, medical bills, food and other expenses in the aftermath of a violent crime.

Two officials from the New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission met with lawmakers on Tuesday, Sept. 28. The memorial, sponsored by Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, requires the task force to deliver a report to the Legislature’s interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee by Dec. 1, 2021.

“Members noted that they would like the time to do a comprehensive review and that the original Dec. 1 deadline may not be sufficient time,” the commission wrote in a report for the legislative panel.

Commission Director Frank Zubia said he hopes to have a final recommendation to lawmakers by June 30, 2022.

“I apologize Sen. Sedillo Lopez, I know that we were hoping — you were hoping — to get this done a lot sooner,” Zubia said. “Unfortunately, with everyone’s having to, you know, change the way in which we live in the new normal, we are still doing it. We’re asking for this body to give us just a little bit more time in which to ensure that we provide you with a meaningful and also a comprehensive recommendation.”

The 25-member task force has met seven times so far, Zubia said, and will continue to meet this fall before reconvening in January 2022.

According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the law’s definition of a household member has not been updated since 2010 and “does not adequately address teen dating violence or adult children abusing their parent.”

Between 2015 and 2019 there were an average of 10,698 temporary protection orders per year overall.

There’s an average of 3,284 permanent protection orders per year in New Mexico, according to the office.

Over 80% of the parties in domestic violence order of protection cases are self-represented litigants who navigate the legal system without the assistance of an attorney. For these reasons, it is important that the FVPA be updated to ensure that the law is clearly written and up-to-date with societal and technological advances.

– Administrative Office of the Courts

The state’s Children, Youth and Families Department said the law contains several contradictions and confusing sections, adding that definitions are also unclear or problematic for courts and police.

CYFD wrote that these problems include requirements of warrantless arrest for alleged domestic abusers, a definition of “household member” that includes any victim of sexual assault — even if the perpetrator is a stranger.

CYFD also wrote that police receive very little training in domestic violence situations — just 30 minutes per year under Law Enforcement Academy requirements. That half-hour tends to focus on officer safety but doesn’t spend much time on the complexities of domestic violence investigations or requirements of the law.

It also wrote that the law requires medical personnel to document domestic violence but “there are very few doctors or nurses who understand their obligations under the act, or even know of its existence.”

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.