AUSTIN - Texas State Representative Jason Villalba announced today that he authored one bill and joint-authored three others intended to increase offense levels and penalties for those who commit domestic violence in Texas. These four pieces of legislation will increase awareness of domestic violence perpetrators, require mandatory jail time and increase offense levels for repeat offenders.
"Domestic violence is a growing epidemic with tragic consequences," said Rep. Villalba. "We need to send a strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated and repeat offenses will be met with even harsher penalties. Domestic abusers must understand that they cannot threaten, intimidate, and harm those around them - and if they do they better be prepared for Texas-sized consequences."
Rep. Villalba authored and filed House Bill 2541, which will make the 3rd conviction of assault with bodily injury, involving domestic violence, a second degree felony offense. Currently, a first offense for domestic (or family) violence is a Class A misdemeanor, a second offense is a third degree felony, and the third offense is also a third degree felony. Under the proposed changes, if an offender is sentenced to prison, the inmate shall be required to serve at least two years and a minimum of half of the length of the sentence in prison, prior to being eligible for consideration for parole.
An individual convicted of a Class A misdemeanor can be fined up to $4,000, receive up to a year in jail, or both. A conviction for a third degree felony can result in a punishment of between 2-10 years in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison and a possible fine of up to $10,000. A second degree felony conviction may be punished with a 2-20 year prison sentence and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
Rep. Villalba joint authored H.B. 2172, filed by Rep. Eddie Lucio, III. The legislation creates an offense for continuous violations of a protection order. Offenders who violate a protective order two or more times in a 12-month period, while the first violation is still pending in court, would be subject to a third-degree felony under the bill.
Rep. Villalba also joint authored House Bill 21, proposed by State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, which creates a domestic violence registry, similar to the current Texas Sex Offender Registration Program maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety. If passed, any individual convicted at least three times of domestic violence would be required to register as a repeat offender. The domestic violence registry would be available free online and would include the names, birthdates and recent photographs of the offenders.
Finally, Rep. Villalba also joint authored HB 1436 by Rep. Lucio. The bill requires mandatory terms of confinement for repeated violations of a protective order and creates harsher penalties for perpetrators of family violence. If the court grants community supervision to a person convicted of domestic violence, then it shall also require as a condition of community supervision that the defendant submit to confinement ranging from 72 hours in county jail if convicted of assault or violation of a protective order to 30 days if convicted of aggravated assault.
"The combination of these four bills sends a powerful message to repeat abusers - domestic violence will have severe, long-term consequences," said Rep. Villalba. "You could wind up on the domestic violence offender registry and spend significant time in prison. Think before you act."
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the total number of reported Texas family violence incidents in 2011 was 177,983. Of these, nearly 40% involved violence against a spouse, nearly 16% was a result of violence against a child, and 44% involved violence against another family member. In Texas statute, domestic violence is referenced as family violence and defined as an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat placing the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, not including self-defense measures. It also includes abuse by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family or household and dating violence.
For more information about family violence in Texas, please visit the 2011 Crime in Texas report available on the Texas Department of Public Safety's website.