- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota’s domestic abuse laws should be expanded to cover dating couples who don’t live together, a state legislative committee recommended Tuesday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved some other measures intended to protect abuse victims and their children.

Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, who chaired a summer study that examined the state’s domestic abuse laws, said the law needs to be changed to protect people in dating relationships who do not live with their abusers. The law also should be changed to protect pregnant women who do not live with their abusers, she said.

Current law defines domestic abuse as physical harm, attempted harm or the infliction of fear of harm committed by family or household members against spouses, former spouses, some relatives, people who live or have lived in the same household or people who have a child together.

The main bill approved by the legislative committee Tuesday would broaden the coverage to people who are in or have been in a significant romantic relationship with each other or are expecting a child with each other.

“It’s not always about the logistics of where you live. It’s about the relationship,” Soholt said.

The bills were written by a legislative summer study that was set up after the 2013 Legislature killed a bill that would have more clearly defined who is protected. The House and Senate a year ago could not agree on whether same-sex couples should be protected by the domestic abuse laws. The measure approved Tuesday does not limit coverage to couples of the opposite sex, and lawmakers did not talk about that aspect of the bill.

The bill was supported by Attorney General Marty Jackley, prosecutors, law enforcement groups and people who work with abuse victims.

Law enforcement officials have said the law needs to be changed, particularly to protect people abused in dating relationships.

“We think this will help victims from falling through the cracks,” said Staci Eggert of the South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association.

Lindsey Riter-Rapp, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, opposed the bill. She said applying domestic abuse protections to former spouses could raise questions in cases where people have been divorced for many years. Courts also could have trouble determining whether a relationship is significant and romantic, she said.

But Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, said judges are capable of determining whether a relationship fits within the definition of those covered by the domestic abuse laws.

South Dakota does not have a stand-alone crime of domestic abuse. Instead, people are charged with assault or other crimes with a tag added to indicate when an offense involves domestic abuse. That tag, or notation, helps victims to get protection orders against those who have hurt them and can also help them qualify for other programs that provide protection and financial assistance.


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