Holcomb ceremonially signs victims rights bill

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A victims rights bill inspired by a mother attempting to protect her underage daughter from a sexual predator’s grooming tactics was ceremonially signed Wednesday by Gov. Eric Holcomb, with support from the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

Senate Enrolled Act 551 http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2019/bills/senate/551 author Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, and House sponsor Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, also joined Holcomb on Wednesday to announce the bill, which addresses several key areas in the criminal justice realm dealing with crime victims.

“I am very pleased to see this legislation signed into law,” Messmer said. “SEA 551 will impact every Hoosier community by improving how we support victims as well as ensuring offenders are justly penalized for their actions.”

The bill was initiated when a constituent reached out to Messmer for help concerning a man who was grooming her 14-year-old daughter. Because no physical act had occurred, the mother was unable to file a restraining order.

With the help of county prosecutors, Messmer crafted language to prevent that type of behavior by allowing restraining orders against individuals who make inappropriate contact with minors.

SEA 551 also contains several provisions aimed at assisting crime victims, including adding confidentiality provisions for victims in court documents and barring the release of Department of Child Services reports during an ongoing criminal investigation. It enhances penalties for repeat strangulation offenders and allows victims access to an emotional support animal or comfort item while testifying in court.

Additionally, the bill addresses a gap in the current kidnapping and criminal confinement laws by creating an offense when the kidnapping or criminal confinement results in moderate bodily injuring to the victim. The legislation removes the current practice of offenders gaining an opportunity to have their felony domestic battery conviction reduced to a misdemeanor.

“To better protect domestic violence and child victims from their abusers, this new law will expand their privacy rights and ensure offenders are appropriately punished for their crimes,” said McNamara. “Victims need to know that they are safe and have support, and this law will take steps to protect their physical and emotional health.”

IPAC Executive Director David Powell and assistant executive director Chris Naylor were present for the signing, along with Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter, Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings and Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Patrick Harrington.

“We are thankful for all the hard work that went into this important bill,” Powell said. “We think this will be very impactful for the victims of crimes throughout Indiana.”

During the 2019 legislative session, the bill received bipartisan support, passing through the Senate unanimously and receiving a 92-4 vote from the House of Representatives. The provision barring the disclosure of DCS reports has already become law. The remainder of the bill go into effect on July 1, 2019.

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