Mae Flexer

State Senator

Mae Flexer

Deputy President Pro Tempore & Federal Relations Liaison

An Advocate for Us

May 18, 2021

Sen. Flexer Leads Senate Passage of Domestic Violence Bill

HARTFORD – Today, after years of working with advocates and fighting for the rights of domestic violence victims, state Senator Mae Flexer led Senate debate and passage of a bill that expands the definition of domestic violence in state law. Senate Bill 1091, “An Act Concerning the Definition of Domestic Violence, Revising Statutes Concerning Domestic Violence, Child Custody, Family Relations Matter Filings and Bigotry or Bias Crimes and Creating a Program to Provide Legal Counsel to Indigents in Restraining Order Cases,” passed the Senate on a 35-1vote and now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The bill defines “coercive control,” which is so often exhibited in domestic abuse situations, that follows a pattern of threatening, humiliating, or intimidating acts that harm a person and deprive them of their freedom, autonomy and their human rights. The bill also establishes a new legal aid program to provide legal representation for victims of domestic violence who file restraining orders.

“This bill continues to make Connecticut a national leader on domestic violence, as we have been for the past four decades,” Sen. Flexer said. “This bill is before us because victims and advocates have come forward and told their stories, and explained what life is like when you live in an abusive relationship. What we learned is that, by the time the violence happens, it’s often too late. There is a run-up to physical abuse, and it often starts with things like coercive control. This bill represents a restructuring of our state laws to recognize the fact that emotional and mental abuse often starts before physical violence happens. Our courts and our judges will now be able to give these victims the protections they need.”

SB 1091 is the result of months of work by Sen. Flexer and advocates to update Connecticut’s domestic violence laws to allow more favorable and fair treatment of victims seeking restraining orders, divorce, child custody, and other matters in family court. If passed by the House and signed into law by the governor, Connecticut would join California in incorporating coercive control and more than physical violence into the criteria necessary for issuing a restraining order.

SB 1091 creates a more efficient restraining order process, allowing victims to electronically apply for a restraining order against the alleged abuser, which has been current practice in the pandemic. The bill also allows victims the option of testifying remotely in curt proceedings — and not in presence of their alleged abuser — if they have a hearing for a restraining order, a protective order, or a standing criminal protective order.

The bill requires that a safe space be provided to victims of family violence in all court locations constructed after July 1, 2021; it allows the state Department of Social Services to expedite general assistance to victims of domestic violence by not factoring in the income of the alleged abuser when determining the amount of assistance available to them; it requires court officials to consider cash-only bonds when previous family violence court orders have been violated; and it establishes a process for tenants to change the locks on their apartments after obtaining a protective order or a restraining order. 

The bill’s creation of a new, so-called “Civil Gideon” program will, through the Connecticut Bar Foundation, provide grants to non-profits to provide legal services in the five judicial districts with the highest number of applications for restraining orders: Fairfield (Bridgeport), Hartford, New Haven, Stamford-Norwalk and Waterbury. 

In one study, victims of domestic violence with access to legal counsel reported substantially less revictimization.  Another study found that domestic violence victims with legal counsel had higher employment rates and used less government programs, thereby saving the sponsoring state twice as much as the program’s cost.