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Deaths continue as Legislature fails to act on domestic violence bills

At least four people have died in suspected domestic violence crimes across the state since the Legislature has been meeting and failing to advance measures to help stem the violence and support survivors. 

At the end of January, a Canton man shot and killed his wife. In February, Tupelo police responding to a domestic incident shot and killed a man who threatened another person with a gun. This month, a woman was found dead at a Stone County store, and the man suspected of killing her shot at a sheriff’s deputy before dying from a self-inflicted gunshot. 

The number of domestic violence fatalities could be higher, but it’s impossible to know because of a lack of data, advocates say. 

“We don’t even have accurate data in the state to show a true picture of what domestic violence looks like,” said Stacey Riley, CEO of the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence Inc. in Biloxi, which operates two shelters and serves six counties. 

House Bill 842 would have established a multi-agency, statewide board to review suspected domestic violence fatalities and suicides, and the board would have collected that data and used it to make recommendations to the Legislature about proactive measures to decrease the deaths. 

When a domestic violence fatality occurs anywhere in the state, it’s often categorized as a homicide, Riley said. Typically, it’s news stories that report whether domestic violence was involved, she said.

The Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence championed the legislation and lawmakers from both parties have supported the bill, but it did not make it out of the House’s Judiciary B Committee. 

“One is too many,” Rep. Fabian Nelson, D-Byram, one of the bill co-sponsors, said about domestic violence deaths. 

Several other bills relating to domestic violence and abuse also did not advance this session including:

  • House Bill 252 by Rep. John Hines Sr., D-Greenville, would have required school districts to adopt curriculum about dating violence and healthy relationships. 
  • House Bill 435 by Hines would have established domestic abuse courts in every county. Hines has introduced this legislation for over a decade
  • House Bill 800 by Rep. Oscar Denton, D-Vicksburg, would have allowed chancery courts to issue temporary domestic abuse protection orders. Currently, these orders are issued by the justice or municipal court. 

Luis Montgomery, public policy and compliance specialist for MCADV, said the organization plans to work with lawmakers next session to reintroduce the review board legislation. 

He said the bill’s failure to advance was a technical issue. The original draft of the bill had the review board under the state medical examiner’s office. After learning that office couldn’t house the board, an effort was made to revise the bill to place the board under the state Department of Health, but by that time the committee deadline passed, Montgomery said. 

Riley and others who work with domestic violence survivors said they are disappointed that the review board won’t become law this year, but they are hopeful it will in the future. In the meantime, they say domestic violence remains an issue in need of attention. 

Rebecca Stewart, executive director of The Domestic Abuse Family Shelter Inc. based in Laurel which serves 11 counties, said data can provide valuable insight. It would allow the group to examine events that led up to a fatality and know about gaps in response, which can help with intervention efforts. 

She hopes the Legislature will take a more in-depth look at domestic violence and lawmakers will ask questions to understand more about the issue and what can be done about it.

“I encourage them to really ask their constituents what do you want to see because there are a lot of people out there who are survivors of domestic violence, vicitms of sexual assault,” Stewart said. “We wouldn’t ask for something (the review board) if it wasn’t important.” 

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