The push for legislation to establish tougher domestic violence laws and provide support for survivors has been going on for decades, but state Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, says one major event of the 20th century led to a greater emphasis on domestic violence issues.
"The biggest change is when O.J. Simpson was accused of killing his ex-wife," he said. "When that incident took place, everybody was jumping to make these offenses more criminal."
In 1994 — the same year Simpson was accused of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson — Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act. The legislation, which is still on the books today, helped establish programs to assist domestic violence survivors and provides grants to help fund these programs.
U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei, D-DeWitt, who supported the reauthorization of VAWA earlier this year, said the law is an example of how the government can do its part to help domestic violence survivors.
"One of the places where the federal government can be of help is making sure that you have centers that have the resources to help survivors of domestic violence," he said. "VAWA did that."
VAWA has evolved since it was first passed in 1994. The latest reauthorization passed in February extends services to gays and lesbians, immigrants and Native Americans. The act provides hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to centers and programs across the country.
Along with VAWA, there are several state laws and proposed bills to help toughen the penalties for domestic violence crimes and provide support for victims.
DeFrancisco said one of the key actions was expanding orders of protection. He said this made it easier to get such orders and have "true enforcement" of the orders by law enforcement officers.
But there have been other state laws passed, especially in the last two decades. One of the most recent measures signed into law was the Domestic Violence Omnibus bill. The legislation was passed by the state Assembly and Senate in 2012 and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in October. The package includes a new felony crime, aggravated family offense, for those who are convicted of misdemeanor level crimes and have previous convictions for domestic violence within the past five years, according to the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Another crime was created under second-degree aggravated harassment for those who harass, threaten or injure a family member.
Other provisions in the omnibus bill include the creation of a new state-level domestic violence fatality review team within the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. This review team would bring local and state professionals together to review select intimate partner homicides.
State Sen. Michael Nozzolio, R-Fayette, believes New York has strong domestic violence laws, but believes more can be done.
"New York has extremely extensive spousal abuse and domestic violence statutes," he said. "We have a number of laws that I believe are very useful and protective. But we need to do more."
One bill Nozzolio is pushing for as chairman of the Senate Codes committee is known as Brittany's Law. The legislation, S1850A, would create a violent felony offender registry in New York.
The bill is named for Brittany Passalacqua of Geneva. Brittany and her mother, Helen Buchel, were killed in November 2009 by a man with a violent past who served prison time for assaulting his infant daughter. According to media reports, the two were killed after a domestic dispute between the man and Buchel.
"Often times, people travel from one area of the state to the other. If they have a record of violence, that violence should be cataloged," Nozzolio said, touting the importance of Brittany's Law. "People should know who's entering their home and entering their lives."
There are other proposed measures in the state Legislature dealing with domestic violence.
A bill introduced by state Sen. Catharine Young would allow the use of closed-circuit television for the testimony of domestic violence victims. The Senate passed the measure, S2205, on March 6 by a 62-0 vote.
Another piece of legislation, S4091, would establish tougher penalties for certain charges related to domestic violence crimes, especially those who have been previously convicted of such crimes. The bill would also require domestic violence offenders to pay a surcharge of $250 that will be used to fund the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.
Statistics show why legislators like Nozzolio feel more needs to be done. According to the latest data available from the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, there were 30,096 intimate partner assaults in New York state in 2011 — a 4 percent increase from the previous year's totals. In 80 percent of cases, women were the victims.
Intimate partner homicides also increased in 2011. There were 89 intimate partner homicides reported that year — a 20 percent increase from 2010, according to state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.
"All areas of physical abuse need to be continually focused on," Nozzolio said. "We are trying very hard to establish zero tolerance for violence in New York. ... We are seeing an unfortunate increase in violence (in the state). More statutory protections are necessary."