Judiciary Committee passes cockfighting bill, tables domestic violence bill - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Judiciary Committee passes cockfighting bill, tables domestic violence bill

(Columbia) April 20, 2005 - The State House took up two pieces of legislation this week aimed at protecting two different groups. Up for debate was cracking down on gamecock fighting and protecting victims of domestic violence.

A bill protecting cocks passed through the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. John Graham Altman (R-Dist. 119-Charleston) was in favor of the gamecock bill, "I was all for that. Cockfighting reminds me of the Roman circus, coliseum."

A bill advocates say would protect victims against batterers was tabled, killing it for the year. Rep. Altman is on the committee that looked at the domestic violence bill, "I think this bill is probably drafted out of an abundance of ignorance."

Wednesday, Vicki Bourus, an advocate for victims of domestic violence, was inundated with phone calls and e-mail. The people were reacting to Graham Altman's comments against the bill, "There's just an outcry going on."

Both cockfighting and domestic violence are currently misdemeanor crimes, punishable by 30 days in jail. If the bill passes, cockfighting will become a felony, punishable by five years in jail. Domestic violence crimes will remain a misdemeanor.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Dist. 66-Orangeburg) says of the two bills, "What we have said by the actions of the Judiciary Committee is we aren't going to create a felony if you beat your wife, partner. But now, if you've got some cockfighting going on, whoa! Wait a minute."

Rep. Altman responds to the comparison, "People who compare the two are not very smart and if you don't understand the difference, Ms. Gormley, between trying to ban the savage practice of watching chickens trying to kill each other and protecting people rights in CDV statutes, I'll never be able to explain it to you in a 100 years ma'am."

News 10 reporter Kara Gormley asked Altman, "That's fine if you feel you will never be able to explain it to me, but my question to you is: does that show that we are valuing a gamecock's life over a woman's life?"

Altman again, "You're really not very bright and I realize you are not accustomed to this, but I'm accustomed to reporters having a better sense of depth of things and you're asking this question to me would indicate you can't understand the answer. To ask the question is to demonstrate an enormous amount of ignorance. I'm not trying to be rude or hostile, I'm telling you."

Gormley, "It's rude when you tell someone they are not very bright."

Altman, "You're not very bright and you'll just have to live with that."

In the follow-up interview, Rep. Altman commented, "I wanted to offend that snippy reporter who come in here on a mission. She already had the story and she came in with some dumb questions and I don't mind telling people when they ask dumb questions."

Rep. Cobb-Hunter says, "The reality is the law says domestic violence regardless, first, second or third offense is a misdemeanor, and what they passed yesterday says cockfighting is a felony."

Rep. Altman spoke about domestic violence, "There ought not to be a second offense. The woman ought to not be around the man. I mean you women want it one way and not another. Women want to punish the men, and I do not understand why women continue to go back around men who abuse them. And I've asked women that and they all tell me the same answer, John Graham you don't understand. And I say you're right, I don't understand."

Gormley, "So it's their fault for going back?"

Altman, "Now there you go, trying to twist that too. And I don't mind you trying. It's not the woman's fault, it's not blaming the victim, but tell me what self respecting person is going back around someone who beats them?"

Bourus says there a number of reasons, "She may have children with that person, and she may fear that it will harm them to live without their dad, or she is majorly financially dependent on his check to feed her children."

Bourus adds another reason women sometimes stay, "After an incident a violent incident, quite often the batterer will say I'm so sorry, it will never happen again."

Rep. Altman has worked with abused women, and in a second interview with a Lowcountry station he said he tells them not to go back, and when he does, "They listen to me, they don't don't go back."

When asked whether he was sure, he said, "At least not while I'm representing her."

During the same interview, he responded to the reporter's question, "You seem to be drawn to this fixation that women have to go back. I don't think that speaks highly of women. I think women can think and be responsible for their own actions. Woman are not some toys out there, drawn back to the magnet of the man. A lot of these men are bums and cretins and they have to be punished but I think women are independent enough to not go back to the men who beat them. And we have a lot of men who are abused by women, but they are too ashamed to admit it."

Rep. Cobb-Hunter explained her bill, "The question that needs to be asked is this. Should a woman because she decides to go back for whatever the reason to return to an abusive relationship, does that mean it's okay to beat her, to kill her, for her to lose her life, for her children to witness the violence they witness?"

Rep. Altman, "I know you are after a story. And it's kind of a nice story, that we've tabled a CDV bill. Because then you can talk about the insensitive man, the insensitive legislator, but it's not the case. But I don't know why a woman, there would ever be a second offense."

Cobb-Hunter admits there was a lot of information in the bill, which she co-sponsored, but she is already working on breaking it down, "One of the things I've learned, having been here as long as I have, is that if at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

Rep. Altman spoke out against a number of items in the bill, including dealing with restraining orders and training judges, "Clearly this bill is drawn by people who don't know what is going on out there."

Rep. Altman doesn't agree with the training, "What are you going to tell a family court judge that a family court judge doesn't already know about domestic violence?"

Vicki Bourus helped draft the bill, and what she calls a key item in it, the training of family court judges and magistrates, "There is very little if any training in domestic violence for them on a mandatory basis."

Bourus says, "You may know that many magistrates are not trained as attorneys so they wouldn't even have that piece of it that attorneys might get."

Speaker David Wilkins issued the following statement Wednesday regarding this story, "Criminal Domestic Violence (CDV) and animal cruelty are both critical issues that this body takes very seriously. The House is working diligently to improve the language on the CDV bill and pass meaningful legislation. That is our goal. In its present form, the bill has a number of legal and technical problems that would have made it very difficult to pass. We intend to fix those problems and get a bill to the floor of the House."

While Bourus doesn't agree with what Graham Altman has to say, she is happy that people are starting to talk about the issue of domestic violence, "Is Graham Altman alone in his way of thinking? Oh, no, no, no. I think he's a very vocal rep, resistant to really seeing domestic violence as the serious crime that it is, but we know that sentiment is runs throughout the House and Senate as well. But we also know there are some very valiant allies."

Wednesday, Rep. Altman told the Lowcountry television station that he didn't mean to offend victims of domestic violence, but had no apology for the interview.

Cobb-Hunter plans to reintroduce the bill in January. If you want to voice your opinion on these bills, you can call the House Judiciary Committee at (803) 734-3120. Rep. Altman's office phone number is (803) 734-2947 and you can contact Rep. Cobb-Hunter's office at (803) 734-2809 or you can email Cobb-Hunter at gch@scstatehouse.net

Reported by Kara Gormley

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