CT lawmakers propose initiatives to curb domestic violence, wrong-way driving

HARTFORD — Speeded-up communications between local police and state agencies, the expansion of GPS monitoring for those convicted of violating protective orders, as well as tens of millions of dollars of additional funding for domestic violence agencies are among changes to state law proposed by majority Democrats in the state Senate on Monday to reduce intimate partner assaults and homicides.

The effort is to prevent the kind of tragedy that took the life of Julie Minogue in her Milford home last December, when the father of her three-year-old son allegedly murdered the mother of two with an ax.

Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, co-chairwoman of the Government Administration & Elections Committee, stressed the need to support the agencies that provide services for victims, the vast majority of whom are women and their children. "As many of you know domestic violence is experienced at some point in the life of one out of four women," Flexer said during a morning news conference, noting that while initiatives have become law in recent years, the statistic remains the same, as does the death toll of about a dozen victims annually.

"We will be looking this year at our GPS monitoring program," Flexer said. "We'll be looking at response times between our systems with law enforcement, our court system, and perhaps most importantly we'll be looking at investments in funding to make sure that people have the tools that they need and the financial supports that are so critical when somebody is trying to leave an abusive situation."

Last December the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence asked Gov. Ned Lamont for more than $35 million in additional funding to support shelters and service providers for victims of domestic violence. A CT Insider investigation in 2021 found that protective orders that have been violated by intimate partners in Connecticut are rarely prosecuted.

Flexer said that a federal funding gap resulted in shortfalls for funding, which last year resulted in Gov. Ned Lamont including $18 million in his budget proposal in additional support.

"It is my hope that this year we'll be able to find the resources to fill that gap again" she said, stressing that the Minogue death has resulted in closer scrutiny at communications among state and local law enforcement and judicial officials.

"Do we need to create a law, do we need to have some more accountability in our system so that breakdown doesn't happen in the future?" Flexer said. "I don't know for certain what that's going to be yet, but we're having those conversations and trying to figure out how, when someone steps up and says 'I need help,' how can we make sure the system is actually there to protect them."

On the first day of a four-day roll out of their priorities for the legislative session, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney of New Haven and Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk, along with several committee co-chairman, announced packages aimed at reducing wrong-way highway crashes, enforcing the 65 mph speed limit on Connecticut's interstate highways and allowing towns and cities to install so-called red-light cameras near schools and at high-collision intersections.

Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, co-chairwoman of the legislative Transportation Committee said that the state had 357 vehicular fatalities in 2022, the highest in a decade, plus more than 1,000 people sustained severe injuries. "Data is telling us that 40 percent of those incidents are alcohol-related," Cohen said. "We need to drive that number down."

Cohen said there are currently 62 drug-recognition experts in the state with the ability to identify motorists impaired by cannabis. She noted that in other states, there is a signal system to alert State Police of such wrong-way driving intrusions. "That's another tool that's possibly available to us," Cohen said.

Looney said it is too early in the legislative session, which ends at midnight on June 7, to know what will eventually become law, noting that over the years, attempts at the extensive installation of red-light cameras has been discouraged by urban lawmakers - and the American Civil Liberties Union - amid concerns about the the targeting of low-income neighborhoods and revenue generation rather than safety measures.

Other initiatives announced on Monday include the strengthening of online privacy and protection, including provisions to restrict social media companies from collecting and selling personal information of those under the age of 18. "We need to make children feel safe online," said Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, co-chairman of the General Law Committee. Other proposals include requiring employers, when responding as references about former employees, to reveal histories of sexual harassment if complaints had been filed.

In the area of health and wellness, Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, an intensive care physician who is co-chairman of the Public Health Committee, proposed expanding the availability of the opioid antidote Narcan, including in vending machines; increase the access to test strips for substance abusers to find the presence of deadly fentanyl; and to create a pilot program of safe-injection sites for intravenous drug addicts.

"By the end of the day today, four more people, on an average will leave their families with trauma for the rest of their lives," said Anwar. "We want to change that."

kdixon@ctpost.com   Twitter: @KenDixonCT