Victims of domestic violence in Missouri would, in some circumstances, be able to get lifetime restraining orders against their abusers under a new bill passed by the state legislature Monday night.
Under current law, protection orders that judges issue in domestic violence cases to restrain abusers from stalking, threatening or assaulting the accuser can only be renewed one year at a time.
Survivors of domestic violence testified to lawmakers that they’re subject to fear and trauma seeing their abusers every year in court to renew the orders. Some said their abusers have exploited the court date to harass or intimidate them.
The decision Monday, which sends the bill to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk, could expand those protective orders, allowing them to last longer in cases where a judge finds the abuser poses a “serious danger” to the mental and physical health of the victim or a child in their household.
The finding would be based on the abuser’s history of assaulting or stalking the victim, record of dangerous felony convictions and whether the abuser had already violated orders intended to protect the victim from them.
Under the bill, a judge in those cases could grant survivors an order of protection that lasts anywhere from two to 10 years. The order would be renewable for at least an additional two years and up to the life of the defendant.
“The intent of this is to deal with the person who is obsessive, who is chronic,” Rep. Lane Roberts, a Joplin Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, said before the House Judiciary Committee in February.
Going back to court each year to renew a protection order, victims “never get respite,” he said.
Supporters of the bill, including the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said it would protect survivors for longer periods of time in extreme cases, and eliminate the need for them to spend money going to court.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Holly Rehder, a Sikeston Republican, and added in April to a proposal by Sen. Elaine Gannon, a De Soto Republican, that would include pets in orders of protection. The legislation would allow the orders to restrain accused abusers from threatening or abusing pets.
It passed the Senate unanimously last month.
In contentious domestic relations, Gannon said last month, “there’s a strong possibility one could use the pet against the other,” especially in the form of threats.
The bill also would update the definition of stalking to include following or surveilling someone through a third party.
In Kansas, orders of protection can be extended up to two years, or for the lifetime of the defendant if it’s found they violated a protective order in the past or committed a felony against the person seeking the order.
If the Missouri bill is signed into law, those subject to the orders would get a chance to appeal after at least two years.