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WV Lawmakers Work to Close Domestic Violence Loopholes

February 3, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - State lawmakers are expected to take up several bills to strengthen protection for victims of domestic violence, including one named for a victim who says it could have helped her.

The bill named for Celena Roby would target unlawful restraint. Roby says that when she tried to leave her abuser of 11 years, she was beaten and trapped in her own bathroom with her two sons crying outside the door. However, Roby says, that incident didn't merit a charge of kidnapping, a loophole she wants to close.

"Very important to me, not because it will change what happened to me, but because if I see it help one person, than that's all the justice I need."

Critics of "Celena's Law" say those cases are covered by the laws against kidnapping, but acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall County, a former prosecutor and one of the sponsors of the bill, says that's not the case.

"Kidnapping usually requires you take someone and transport them somewhere else. This is under threats of violence or whatever, keeping someone restrained in the confines of what should be the safest place in the world for anybody ... their own home."

Kessler is also backing a proposal to let people collect unemployment benefits if they lose their jobs because of a legitimate domestic crisis. He says the cost to the state unemployment system would be negligible, and in fact could help West Virginia qualify for millions of federal dollars.

"It's free money they're giving away from the federal government to enact a policy that frankly is just the right thing to do. Keep people safe. They are able, ready and willing to work. Because of circumstances outside of their control, they cannot."

Another proposal would make protective orders available for victims of sexual assault or stalking who don't qualify for current domestic-violence protection orders.

The national domestic-violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV