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How will half billion dollars in domestic violence funding impact region?

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has announced approval of $500.2 million in federal funding to support survivors of domestic violence and help law enforcement reduce incidents.

It's unclear how much funding Connecticut will get and when money will become available, but Safe Futures Executive Director Katherine Verano would love to have more victim advocates for law enforcement, more civil advocates in court to aid with restraining orders, and more shelter staff.

The New London-based organization, one of 18 designated domestic violence organizations in the state, currently has just one advocate for 14 police departments in the region: Groton Town, Groton City, Groton Long Point, Ledyard, East Lyme, New London, Norwich, Mashantucket, Mohegan, Montville, Waterford, Troop E, Troop C and Troop F.

Verano also said money is used for better data collection and for trauma-informed training for law enforcement.

Karen Jarmoc, president and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said Safe Futures is a "leading voice" on the Lethality Assessment Program and "ahead of the curve" on trauma-informed training for law enforcement.

Lethality assessment is a screening tool used by first responders and others to assess the risk of future homicide and severe injury for victims of domestic violence. 

She said Connecticut is the only state that does a lethality assessment with every law enforcement agency in the state.

Blumenthal said Friday the Senate last week approved $500.2 million — an increase from $490 million last year and the highest level ever for the Violence Against Women Act. But the act itself has yet to be reauthorized.

VAWA expired and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on April 8 reauthorizing it, which Jarmoc noted had the support of all Democrats and 33 Republicans. The Senate has not yet voted on a reauthorization bill.

A controversial new provision in the bill the House passed would close the "boyfriend loophole," meaning those convicted of abusing a relationship partner or under a restraining order couldn't buy or own firearms. The provision currently applies to people who are or were married to, live with, have a child with, or are guardians of victims. The National Rifle Association has opposed this addition.

"In past votes, there has been nothing partisan about it, and this pattern reverses what happened before," Blumenthal said of VAWA reauthorization in the Senate.

He noted that women are five times more likely to die from domestic violence if there is a firearm in the home but said some of his colleagues "would prefer that nothing related to gun violence be in this proposal." He's hopeful, though, that the Senate can move forward.

But Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a domestic violence survivor who is spearheading the reauthorization effort on the Republican side, in a news release accused Senate Democrats of walking "away from the table to introduce a partisan bill (chock)-full of political talking points."

Ernst introduced a GOP bill in November that she touted as a 10 percent increase in funding about levels in Senate Democrats' proposal but that doesn't close the boyfriend loophole. Another area of disagreement is around issues of tribal jurisdiction.

In Connecticut, domestic violence homicides have averaged 14 per year over the past decade, Jarmoc said. There have been 13 this year, and Jarmoc suspects that two more incidents will be confirmed as intimate partner violence homicides.

Jarmoc said Connecticut's domestic violence shelters function at 121 percent capacity.

"That means that families are being put on couches and family rooms and children's play rooms to accommodate the need for safety when survivors and their children are seeking to leave a relationship that is volatile and dangerous," she said.

e.moser@theday.com

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