Gov. Stitt signs Stephen Bernius Memorial Act into law


By John Dobberstein, Editor

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday signed the Stephen Bernius Memorial Act into law.

The measure makes changes to the state’s domestic violence laws to allow a broader range of domestic violence victims to obtain protective orders when they feel they’re in danger. The changes go into effect immediately.

In a fourth reading of the bill this week in the House, one lawmaker, Rep. Wendi Stearman (R-Collinsville), casted the only dissenting vote.

The bill’s namesake is a Broken Arrow man who died last year while trying to evict a tenant from his house. He had sought an order for protection just 2 days before he was killed but a Tulsa County judge denied the request, stating it didn’t meet the legal requirements.

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House Bill 4374 was introduced by Oklahoma Rep. Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow). It expands domestic abuse laws that determine who can obtain a protective order. Sen. Darrell Weaver (R-Moore) was the Senate principal author of the bill.

"This young man lost his life because the statute specified a person must be directly related to obtain a protective order," Ford said in a statement. "We need to be able to protect people from anyone who might be threatening harm. Broadening this definition could stop someone else from being killed."

“While this legislation was spurred by a tragic situation, I am grateful we have been able to give more Oklahomans living in dangerous situations the ability to obtain protective orders,” Weaver said. “I’m hopeful that with this measure, we can help save lives.”

The bill modifies the definition of “family or household members” as used in the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act and the Domestic Abuse Report Act to include persons not related by blood or marriage who are living in the same household.

With the expanded definition, the bill states that “living in the same household” for the purposes of a protective order application means, in addition to blood related, marriage or romantic relationship:

* Persons who regularly reside in the same single dwelling unit,

* Persons who resided in the same single-dwelling unit within the past year, or;

* Persons who have individual lease agreements whereby each person has his or her own private bedroom and shares the common areas

Bernius' mother, Maureen Bucchere, wanted Oklahoma’s domestic violence laws to be changed because they don’t protect people in all types of relationships. She created an online petition seeking support for law changes that garnered more than 2,500 signatures.

“Whatever the relationship is shouldn’t matter for a person to be protected when you are being regularly harassed, threatened or feel you’re in danger of another human being,” Bucchere said last November. “There are no excuses for ignoring someone’s fear.”

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