A bill aimed at giving greater protection to domestic abuse victims is poised to pass the Legislature, some three years after law enforcement officials and victims’ rights supporters began lobbying for it.
House Bill 968 allows temporary restraining orders to remain in effect for up to 180 days or until a permanent protective order is issued by a judge. Key House lawmakers agreed to changes to the bill made by the Senate, clearing the way for a final vote in the House this week.
The bill’s supporters call the bill critical because it closes a loophole that leaves victims vulnerable to their abusers.
The law now says a TRO granted to a victim against an abuser is invalidated once a permanent protective order is issued. The problem, however, is the protective order is not deemed valid until it is served on the abuser.
That leaves the victim vulnerable if the abuser avoids being served since the TRO is no longer in effect and the protective order cannot be enforced until it has been served.
Honolulu police Maj. Kurt Kendro, who has testified in support of the bill the past two legislative sessions, was ecstatic.
"It gives a longer time for people to seek out a protective order if necessary, and it gives us time to serve a protective order while still providing the domestic violence victim the protection of the temporary restraining order," Kendro said.
The bill was also supported by Veronika Geronimo, interim executive director for the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who had testified that many abusers know the law and take advantage of it.
The measure was opposed by the Office of the Public Defender, which argued that TROs are temporary for good reason. "A TRO can be obtained … by one party to a dispute," the office said in written testimony. "Although it is subject to court approval, it can be granted without a hearing and even without notice to the party being restrained."
TROs can be slapped on opposing sides in divorce or child custody proceedings in an attempt to gain legal leverage, public defenders said.
"The purpose for a time limit on the effectiveness of a TRO is that such orders can deal with very critical matters such as housing, finances and child custody. These matters must be subject to a full hearing as soon as practicable in order for the court to issue a full and fair hearing."
Meanwhile, Kendro said he recently learned of another case where an abuser could not be arrested by police because a TRO had been nullified by the granting of a protective order.
Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro and the Downtown Neighborhood Board also support the bill.