With an early deadline for bills bearing down Tuesday at midnight, state legislators have only two days to act on a number of bills that would stiffen the penalties for abusive behavior.
Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, found one success last week, when the House Insurance Committee approved H.B. 657. Jones' bill would prohibit insurance companies from unfairly discriminating against victims of domestic abuse in their health, life or disability insurance coverage. Mississippi is currently one of only eight states without such a protection.
"The idea is that we send a message to domestic violence victims that we're not going to let you get pushed around by private companies that are doing business in this state," Jones said.
Jones said foresees little opposition to the bill from the full House. Some committee members suggested that the bill may be unnecessary, as there have been no reported instances in the state of insurance companies denying coverage on the basis of domestic abuse. Given how difficult it is for victims of abuse to report abusive behavior in the first place, though, it is unlikely that they would challenge an insurance company, Jones argued.
"You're asking quite a bit of victims there," he said.
Jones has several other bills related to domestic violence that are currently mired in the House Judiciary B Committee. One would add strangulation to the list of abusive behaviors that qualify as "aggravated domestic violence" under state law. Another would increase the minimum penalty for aggravated domestic violence from one year to two years of jail time. For a third conviction, that bill would increase the minimum jail term from five to ten years.
Jones has also sponsored a bill that would expand the statutory definition of stalking to "a course of conduct" that causes "a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety." Current state law requires that the accused stalker's actions be intended to cause fear of death or "great bodily injury."
"I'm expecting those bills to come out (of committee)," Jones said.