Jindal signs domestic violence bills

Gwen Salley never thought she’d have a law named after her, her father said Thursday.

But on Thursday, 27 days after the Grand Cane woman’s death at the hands of her estranged husband, that’s what happened.

The new law provides additional protections for women in domestic violence situations.

“The system as we have today failed her, not only her but everybody else. Gwen is up in heaven right now smiling. We cannot bring her back but she can certainly … have an important role in possibly saving someone else,” said her father, Bennie Cox, choking back tears.

Just days before Gwen Salley’s death, her estranged husband, Michael Salley, was charged with false imprisonment, unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon and aggravated assault with a firearm in connection with an incident involving her. He was out of jail on bail at the time he killed her and himself.

“Gwen’s Law” requires a contradictory bail hearing for a felony offense against the defendant’s family or household member or dating partner and gives the court the authority to hold the person charged without bail if there’s evidence a danger exists.

If bail is allowed, the court could require wearing of an electronic monitoring device.

The measure was one of several anti-domestic violence bills Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law Thursday in special State Capitol ceremonies attended by legislators who sponsored the bills and representatives of anti-domestic violence groups.

Others bills becoming law make it a crime for a person convicted of domestic abuse battery to possess a firearm or carry a concealed weapon; expedite transmission of restraining orders in abuse cases to law enforcement; allow for an immediate divorce on grounds of domestic abuse; provide for punitive damages in lawsuits arising from domestic abuse; and add the crime of domestic abuse aggravated assault to the list of crime of violence, with offenders required to participate in a court-monitored domestic abuse intervention program.

“Domestic violence is a tragedy that has plagued our state for too long,” Jindal said. “We must be vigilant as long as there are other Gwens out there.”

Jindal said he plans to sign another measure, sponsored by state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, that will create a special commission to review existing public and private programs with a goal of identifying gaps in prevention and intervention services.

Groups such as the United Way of Southeast Louisiana and the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence made a strong push this year for new laws to protect victims in a state that ranks second in the nation in the number of homicides related to domestic abuse.

The legislation was met with overwhelming support from the Legislature, which left legislative sponsor state Sen. J.P. Morrell wondering “what took us so long to pass these bills?”

“The cries of women who have suffered have not fallen on deaf ears,” said Morrell, D-New Orleans.

“We asked these people to take some hard stands on issues that can be critical and controversial and they did it,” said Beth Meeks, executive director of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

A short time before Jindal’s bill signing ceremony, the Louisiana House overwhelming rejected another bill aimed at helping those in domestic violence situations.

The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, would have stopped the eviction of victims of domestic abuse.

“We have to let the landlords make decisions they think are best for their tenants overall,” said state Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie.

The House agreed, with 53 representatives voting against the measure while only 34 supported it. Another 18 representatives did not vote.

Proponents said Senate Bill 233 is necessary to stop victims of domestic abuse becoming further victims.

“All we are trying to do is make sure someone is not kicked out of their property just because they are victims of domestic abuse,” said state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans. She said they can be kicked out for other reasons such as creating disturbances.

“Let’s help these women going through these horrific situations,” Moreno said.

But a parade of legislators argued the proposed law would put landlords in an untenable situation and expose them to lawsuits.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.