CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire's Senate voted unanimously Thursday to pass legislation to establish a separate crime of domestic violence and name it after a 9-year-old boy killed during a supervised visit with his father in August.
The domestic violence bill was introduced following the death of young Joshua Savyon, who was shot to death by his father in August as the two spent time together at a Manchester YWCA. His father also killed himself.
Joshua's mother, Becky Ranes, watched Thursday's vote from the Senate gallery. Gov. Maggie Hassan hugged her afterward.
"Keep at it," Hassan told her. "You are doing great work."
Ranes told reporters it was gratifying to see so many people show so much strength.
Sen. Donna Soucy, the bill's prime sponsor, said Ranes told her she had not recognized the signs of domestic violence in the relationship with Joshua's father.
"This law would not only shed more light on the issue of domestic violence, it also would assist in getting services and protections earlier in the process," said Soucy, a Manchester Democrat.
Soucy said the bill doesn't change the substance of the crimes but will help distinguish an assault that occurred in a bar fight, for example, from one that involves an attack on a spouse. She said making domestic violence a crime will allow the state to collect better data that can be used for prevention, education and intervention.
New Hampshire is one of 15 states that does not have a crime of domestic violence, she said. The bill now goes to the House.
Supporters say the distinction is important because domestic violence often escalates. In the past decade, half of the murders in New Hampshire were related to domestic violence, as were more than 90 percent of the murder-suicides.
"Passing Joshua's Law to establish a crime of domestic violence is a common-sense step that will improve the safety of our families by helping law enforcement and prosecutors better identify and stop repeat abusers," Hassan said in a statement after the vote.
People convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses under state, federal and tribal law lose the right to purchase or possess guns and are placed on a federal registry. The crime must include the use of physical force, an attempt at it or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. It must also involve a current or former spouse, parent or guardian of the victim. Other relationships that trigger the placement on the federal registry include sharing a child in common or living with the victim currently or in the past as an intimate partner.
Soucy said police and prosecutors would retain discretion in how they charge offenders under the bill.
Bill supporters also say it will better ensure that only those offenders who belong on the federal registry are added to it, preserving gun rights for those who might have been at risk of ending up on the list because of a lack of clarity in New Hampshire's law.
The Senate also passed a bill allowing courts to limit parental visits to supervised visitation centers that use metal detectors and have trained security staff on site. New Hampshire only has two such sites, one in Nashua and one in Boscawen. The bill also creates a commission to study supervised visitation centers. The Manchester YWCA had hand-held metal detectors but they were not used the day Joshua was killed.
According to investigators, Joshua's father was upset over custody arrangements and had threatened to kill his mother or himself and the boy.