— House’s Judiciary Chairman says; But Conference Committee Insight to Reconcile the Two Houses’ Versions
The chairman of the House of Representatives Joint Committee responsible to scrutinize the Domestic Violence Bill of 2014 for its passage and concurrence with the Liberian Senate, Grand Kru County District #2 Representative J. Fonati Koffa, says that the issue of FGM, which was absent from the reintroduced bill, will be introduced as “a different standalone bill.”
Meanwhile, he expressed that he remains opposed to the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and a champion of the rights of women.
Cllr. Koffa is the Chairman on the current Joint Committee on Judiciary; Gender Equity, Child Development and Social Services; and Good Governance & Government Reform, that is reviewing the Domestic Violence Act which was reintroduced recently by Rep. Dr. Rosana G.D.H. Schaack of River Cess County District #1.
Good over perfect
The reintroduced bill before the House of Representatives does not contain the section which made FGM illegal under Liberian law because, according to the proponent of the bill, Rep. Dr. Schaack, making FGM illegal was the primary reason why the bill was not approved during the 53rd Legislature.
Despite his professed opposition of FGM, Rep. Koffa said he will support the passage of the Bill, as did other members of the Committee, because they “can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
“The bill before me did not contain FGM. I am told that is for a different standalone bill. My views on FGM are well known. I remain opposed to FGM in any form and at any age,” Rep. Koffa said.
“In spite of my own position on FGM I still think we should pass this domestic violence bill. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. No one is precluded from proffering an FGM bill,” Rep. Koffa said.
Domestic violence turbulence
However, there was serious disagreement among the 13 representatives at the meeting. The only female lawmakers there — Representatives Rosanna Schaack, Ellen Attoh Wreh and Julie Weah — stood in agreement with the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection over the punishment for domestic violence offenders. Their contention is that the bill, which originally recommended a one-year jail sentence for convicted domestic violence offenders, should carry the weight of a felony in the second degree.
Unlike rape, which is a felony of the first degree and carries a mandatory jail time of minimum 25 years, the women argue that the offense of Domestic Violence should be legislated a felony of the second degree, with a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment upon conviction and a minimum jail time of five days upon complaint.
However, the male lawmakers present contended that the one-year sentence originally prescribed for convicts of domestic violence be sustained. They also considered it unrealistic and unlawful to legislate that alleged domestic violence offenders be sent to jail for a minimum of five days based on complaint. The Liberian law states that a person may be sent jailed for no more than 72 hours (three days), after which they must be released or forwarded to court for trial.
Another sticky issue is the ‘harassment component’ of the law which includes “repeated making telephone calls to or inducing another person to make telephone calls, using the internet or other electronic means to make unwanted or malice communication and repeatedly watching or loitering outside or near the building where a person resides, works, carries on business or studies.”
And also, the “emotional, verbal and psychological abuse” is also ambiguous, which means, in the law: a pattern or single occurrence of degrading or humiliating conduct towards a person including any behavior that causes emotional damage and reduction of self-esteem, or that harms and disturbs full development, or that aims at degrading or controlling a persons’ actions.
Meanwhile, the Joint Committee is expected to finalize the scrutiny of the Domestic Violence Bill on Monday and Tuesday, July 1 and 2, 2019 and make recommendations to the House’s Plenary for passage and concurrence by the Senate.
But the Daily Observer has gathered that the version of Domestic Violence Bill that the Senate has approved will be quite different from that of the House of Representatives, which will call for a Conference Committee.
The House’s RULE 32 calls for meeting of Conference Committee when a Bill passed by the House and sent to the Senate for concurrence is sent back to the House with Senate amendments, the House shall resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House which shall proceed to determine if the Senate amendment(s) are acceptable.
The Rule further says If the Senate amendments are not acceptable to the House, then the Conference Committee of the House and Senate shall meet.
Therefore, there will be selected Members of the House including some Members of the Committee that considered the Bill shall represent the House in the Conference Committee, and the Conference Committee shall deliberate only on areas of disagreement between the House and the Senate.
The Conference Committee shall not insert in its report matters not committed to it by either the House or Senate, nor shall it be in order to strike out from the Bill matter agreed to by the House and Senate. Meanwhile, the sitting of the Conference Committee may be opened or closed to the public, depending on the subject matter under discussion and the majority view of the Members.