Controversial teen dating violence bill advances

A bill aimed at punishing violent offenders in teen relationships is receiving criticism because it does not apply to homosexuals.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) " A South Carolina bill meant to curb abuse among dating teens in a state with one of the nation's worst domestic violence rates advanced Wednesday.

The bill approved by a Senate Education subcommittee would require school districts to adopt dating violence policies and discipline guidelines for students in grades six through 12.

Its sponsor, Rep. Joan Brady, said the measure would bring awareness to a growing, dangerous problem.

"Awareness is so important if we're going to break this insidious cycle of abuse ... that we know is so pervasive in South Carolina," said the Columbia Republican.

Early intervention will save lives and court costs, she said.

South Carolina consistently ranks high in the rate of women killed by men. The Violence Policy Center in Washington currently ranks the state eighth nationwide. But South Carolina has twice ranked first, and always within the top 10, since the report was first released in 1998.

On a survey taken last spring, more than one in six high school students in South Carolina reported they'd recently been hit or physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend. That's up from one in eight teens in 1999, the first year the question was asked in the biennial survey.

The bill now goes to the full Senate Education Committee. The House passed it last month, after specifying it applies to heterosexual teens only.

Rep. Greg Delleney (R-Chester) pushed for the change last May, which delayed a vote on the House floor, because he said he feared it would lead to teaching in middle and high schools about same-sex relationships.

Gay rights advocates had protested the exclusion of gay and lesbian relationships, saying the caveat further discriminates against students who are already vulnerable to bullying, depression and self-doubt.

An attempt by Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, to remove the bill's definition of "dating partner" failed 3-2.

Brady told senators the definition is consistent with the state's criminal domestic violence laws.

The panel's chairman, Sen. Wes Hayes, cast the deciding vote, saying he understood both arguments.

"But I do believe that would be a bill killer," said the Rock Hill Republican.

The measure would direct districts to print the policies in school handbooks or Web sites by the summer of 2011. The policies would include recognizing threats, physical or emotional abuse, or stalking occurring on school property, and referring the students to counseling.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, questioned whether the bill did enough, noting his kids don't read their school handbook.

Brady said she initially wanted to incorporate dating violence prevention in students' health curriculum, but teacher training would cost money, and the state has none right now.

"This is a very good start," she said.

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