An otherwise excellent domestic violence bill containing measures to prevent abuse and assist victims passed by the Legislature Thursday also contains a poison bill that evidently slipped in with little or no debate. The provision prohibiting information about domestic violence arrests from being included in daily police records and logs, which are public, violates the First Amendment and potentially gives abusers protection they don’t merit.
The argument for the provision is that it will encourage women to report abusers because it gives them anonymity, but there is no indication that women are not going to police because they currently don’t have this anonymity. The bill is "solving" a problem that doesn’t exist. In contrast, as Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association Executive Director Robert Ambrogi said Friday, this provision could shield abusers from public disclosure, including public officials, teachers and others in positions of trust or authority.
If signed by Governor Patrick, the new law would toughen penalties for repeat offenders, help victims in need of counseling, and establish a fund to encourage practices aimed at preventing domestic violence. These are all welcome measures, and it is cynical to attach a controversial provision to the bill secure in the knowledge that the governor wouldn’t dare veto it, and risk a firestorm of protest, because of the bill’s strengths.
Jared Remy’s high-profile murder of his girlfriend was a powerful impetus for the Beacon Hill debate on domestic violence and the subsequent passage of the bill. A strong argument can be made that if more had been known about Mr. Remy’s long history of violence he would not have been in a position to ultimately commit murder. If this provision had been in place, even less would have been known about his history. Little or no good comes from government secrecy, and however, well-intentioned, little or no good will result from a provision that by keeping key information about domestic violence arrests from the press and public may succeed in protecting the privacy of abusive men.