Originally created 05/01/06

Lawmakers tackle domestic violence



COLUMBIA - A Bluffton-area man is accused of beating his wife and killing her mother in February.

An Aiken man is convicted of kidnapping his ex-girlfriend in March.

And, all along, lawmakers, authorities and social services stage an attack on domestic violence - hoping to help victims, punish the guilty and educate South Carolina away from its history of abuse.

"It happens in every walk of life," said Kay Mixon, the executive director of Aiken's Cumbee Center, which helps abuse victims. "It can be a doctor. It can be a minister. It can be an engineer. It can be the homeless on the street."

Statistics show it happens a lot in South Carolina.

In 2003, the Violence Policy Center ranked South Carolina first in the nation in the rate of women killed by men. In its 2005 report, South Carolina moved down to sixth place.

But, Ms. Mixon notes, sixth place is far from good.

Lawmakers are working on the problem.

Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, is sponsoring a bill to allow first-offense domestic violence cases to be heard in general sessions and summary courts.

Duffie Stone, a solicitor for the 14th Circuit, said putting the cases in general sessions court would, for one, centralize them in a few courts, rather than having them heard throughout the circuit.

Centralizing the cases would help him keep better track of the cases, Mr. Stone said.

"I don't believe there are any first-offense domestic violence situations," he said. "No one's going to beat their spouse once."

Second offenses already go to general sessions courts, he said.

"Why are we waiting until it's technically called a second offense?" he asked. "Really, it's not. Really it's probably the 15th or 16th."

Mr. Herbkersman's bill missed today's deadline, the date by which each chamber must pass any bills it wants the other chamber to consider this session.

After today, it takes a two-thirds majority to approve the consideration of a bill that didn't make the deadline.

Other proposals are advancing.

The Senate's budget proposal for fiscal year 2007, which passed Wednesday, includes $2.2 million to fund special domestic violence prosecutors.

At the bottom of the budget's "wish list" is $460,000 for domestic violence public defenders.

Reach Kirsten Singleton at (803) 414-6611 or kirsten.singleton@morris.com.