Auburn’s State Senator Michael O. Moore announces that the Senate on Thursday, October 24, unanimously passed legislation to strengthen penalties for strangulation, enhance protections for victims of domestic violence and establish new employment rights that will help victims keep their jobs and increase long-term economic productivity. October is recognized nationally as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

 “While the Commonwealth has made significant strides to prevent domestic violence and to protect victims, too often cases of domestic violence remain invisible. It is our obligation as a Commonwealth to change this and remove barriers for victims to recover and protect themselves,” states Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury). “This legislation adds new employment protection and provides law enforcement with new tools to properly help end the cycle of domestic violence. This bill sends a loud and clear message that domestic violence is not welcomed in our communities.”

The bill upgrades strangulation to a felony and creates penalties of up to 5 years in state prison, up to 2 1/2 years in a house of correction, by a fine of up to $5,000 or by both a fine and imprisonment. Currently, strangulation is not treated as a separate offense and charged as assault and battery unless there is a proven intent to kill.

The bill enhances penalties for strangulation when it causes serious bodily harm, is against a pregnant woman, there are subsequent strangulation convictions or if it is against a person who has a restraining order against the perpetrator to up to 10 years in state prison or 2 1/2 years in a house of correction and by a fine of up to $10,000.

An amendment filed by Senator Moore was included in the bill. Currently, convicted batterers pay a $25 fine which goes directly to the Massachusetts General Fund. The amendment requires batterers to pay an additional $50 fine which will go to fund shelter and support services for people at risk of domestic violence.

In addition, the bill increases penalties for subsequent restraining order violations to up to 5 years in state prison or up to 2 1/2 in a house of correction. Under current law, penalties are limited to a fine of up to $5,000 or up to 2 1/2 years in a house of correction, or both.

The bill also creates a first offense for a domestic assault and battery charge. Current law includes penalties for subsequent offenses but fails to include a first offense, making the statute unenforceable.

To protect victims of domestic violence, the bill eliminates a provision that allows courts to dismiss charges if both parties agree in a written statement for domestic violence related offenses. Victims often feel pressure from their abuser to reconcile and are not emotionally able to resist their demands making this provision inappropriate for domestic violence related offenses.

The bill also takes steps to help victims recover and continue to make a living by requiring employers with 50 or more employees to allow up to 15 days of leave, with or without pay, to any employee who is a victim of domestic violence or lives with a family member who is a victim of domestic violence. Employees can use the leave to obtain medical attention, counseling, housing, protection orders and other legal assistance.

Employers can require employees to provide restraining orders, police reports, medical notes or other official documentation, such as a conviction record or victim advocate statement, to certify that the employee or employee’s family member is a victim of domestic violence.

Under this bill, all information about the employee’s leave must be kept confidential. In addition, employees must exhaust all available leave, such as vacation and sick time, before seeking leave established under this bill; however an employer may waive this requirement.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.