The administration of Gov. Paul LePage and two state lawmakers plan to propose legislation in the coming weeks to establish gender-neutral rules for state-certified batterer treatment programs, the governor’s spokeswoman said this week.

The rules are now written to certify only programs for men. That opened the door to a court challenge by a man who was sentenced to attend one of the anti-domestic violence programs.

LePage’s bill will be co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Emily Cain and Republican Rep. Kenneth Fredette, said Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for the governor.

Fredette said he doesn’t expect opposition to the bill.

“I suspect this will get unanimous committee support, pass under the hammer, and be signed into law by the governor,” he said.

Batterer’s intervention programs are court-mandated group therapy sessions that meet weekly for 48 weeks. Advocates say they help people who commit domestic violence learn new patterns of behavior to avoid future confrontations.

Programs in each county serve men. But only three programs in Maine serve women, and those programs aren’t legally certified because the law specifies that such programs are for men.

The bill would allow certification of programs for women, so judges could include them in sentences.

Certification would make the current programs’ role in the criminal justice process more formal, and establish quality and review standards like those for men’s programs.

The push for gender-neutral language in state law follows a decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in the case of Christopher Mosher, 42, of Litchfield, who appealed his sentence in a domestic violence case.

Pointing to the absence of batterer treatment for women, Mosher argued that the unequal sentencing provisions violated his constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

The case was remanded to District Court in Augusta for more argument and testimony.

For men who are convicted of domestic violence, probation lasts two years because of the batterer’s program. Women receive no more than one year of probation because a sentence can’t include such a program.

A decision in Mosher’s favor could undercut effective programs for men, said Maeghan Maloney, district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties, whose office argued the case. But the proposed change in the law would preclude negative effects on the programs.

“The recognition here is that batterers can be men or they can be women,” said Fredette, who expects a final version of the bill within two weeks.

Although most convictions for domestic violence — around 85 percent, according to Bureau of Justice statistics — involve men, some women offend.

Men and women are violent for different reasons, so they need separate treatment programs that ultimately have the same goals: reducing future risk to victims, and teaching participants healthier relationship skills, said Sherry Edwards, assistant director of Caring Unlimited, one of Maine’s three intervention programs for women.

Edwards said about 20 women have gone through the program, which serves York County, since it was created about a year ago.

 

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com