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BILLINGS, MT  – Governor Steve Bullock signed four bills into law over the weekend including one measure that is aimed at preventing domestic violence deaths.
State Sen. Margie MacDonald (D-Billings) is the main sponsor of Senate Bill 153, which makes strangulation of a family or partner member a felony crime. Gov. Bullock signed the bill at a ceremony for the Indian Regalia bill at Billings Senior High School on Saturday.
SB 153 allows prosecutors to charge a crime in strangulation cases, which attorneys say will prevent more domestic abuse and even homicide.
“What we often see in domestic violence situations is that a strangulation isn’t prosecuted because it’s difficult to do so,” Bullock said. “But that’s what escalates into unfortunately at times a fatality.”
“Many victims of strangulation don’t know how lethal it is and how potentially dangerous it can be,” said Ben Halverson, Deputy City Attorney for Billings and part of the city’s Domestic Violence Unit. “So we have struggled to get the right words from them to describe what they have gone through. Now this statute makes it much easier for them to experience justice and get some kind of protection from their abusers.”
Billings City Attorney Brent Brooks said making the crime a felony will help prosecutors, the victim and the abuser.
“It will have a deterrent effect,” Brooks said. “But it will also will help us get the additional time of supervision that you would not have under a misdemeanor to make sure these individuals get treatment if that’s appropriate. So this is a major, major step forward in addressing domestic violence.”
MacDonald worked with the Billings city attorney’s office in writing the bill.