EDITORIAL: Domestic violence bill is common-sense

The York Dispatch
The family of Laurie Kepner release "notes to heavan," balloons with messages attached from her gravesite in Emanuel Cemetery in Lewisberry, Saturday Dec. 5, 2015. Kepner and her firend Barbara Schrum killed by Kepner's estranged husband May 29. (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)
  • HB 175 would mandate Pa. police officers receive training on using the Lethality Assessment Program.
  • This shouldn’t be about politics.
  • This is about common sense and protecting at-risk people in dangerous situations.

If lawmakers approve a bill requiring police in Pennsylvania to use a domestic-violence Lethality Assessment Program, it will be known as Laurie's and Barbara's Law.

It would be a fitting tribute to the memory of York County residents Laurie Kuykendall and Barb Schrum, who lost their lives two years ago at the hands of Kuykendall's estranged husband

More:Lethality assessment program to be reconsidered by Legislature

It also would be a nod to Karen Kuykendall Nordsick, Kuykendall’s sister, and Alecia Armold, one of Schrum’s three children, and their tireless work to help prevent others from becoming victims of domestic violence.

More:Golf tournament sends strong message to domestic violence victims: Never Go Back

On May 29, 2015, Schrum went with her friend Kuykendall to retrieve Laurie's belongings from the Wellsville-area home she had left a few months before, where Laurie's ex-husband, Martin Kepner, lived.

Laurie had called state police, sheriff's deputies and a local constable to try to get an official to accompany her, but it's against policy for law-enforcement personnel to go on what are known as standbys unless there is a protection from abuse (PFA) or another civil order.

Laurie turned to friends, and finally Schrum said she would go.

Schrum was sitting in the car when Martin Kepner shot her in the head and stabbed her in the neck, killing her. Laurie Kepner tried to run, but Martin Kepner fatally shot her, too, then killed himself.

Alecia Armold, left, and Karen Kuykendall Nordsick attend a press conference Aug. 8, 2017, by state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, who urged the passage of House Bill 175, which would require all Pennsylvania police departments to use the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) in PA, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017.  Armold's mother, Barb Schrum, and Nordsick's sister, Laurie Kuykendall, were murdered by Laurie's estranged husband in 2015. 
(Liz Evans Scolforo photo)

Since the murders, Armold and Kuykendall have been pushing lawmakers to pass House Bill 175.

It would mandate that Pennsylvania police officers receive training on using the Lethality Assessment Program, which is credited with reducing the numbers of domestic-violence homicides in Maryland by 25 percent in the last six years.

It also would provide grant money to purchase cellphones and other equipment officers would need for the program, said state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, who announced Tuesday, Aug. 8, that she would reintroduce the bill.

The bill first was introduced late in the last legislative session, but it failed to receive a vote in the House. However, Klunk said her colleagues are supportive of it, and she pledged to work hard to shepherd the bill to the governor’s desk.

The Lethality Assessment Program gives officers 11 questions to ask someone they suspect is a domestic-violence victim, which can help determine how much danger the person is in and whether that danger is immediate.

If the person's answers indicate an increased risk of being killed by an intimate partner, the officer tells the victim, "I believe your life may be in danger. I'd like you to talk to an expert."

The officer immediately calls a domestic-violence expert — in York County, that would be advocates with Access-York and Hanover Safe Home — and asks the person to speak with the expert.

The program "has saved many lives," said Nordsick, who was at the Hanover YWCA Tuesday as Klunk made her announcement.

"Now that Laurie and Barb are angels in heaven, I'm here today to advocate for my daughters, my granddaughter, your sisters (and) your daughters,” she said. “And I want to let you all know the Lethality Assessment Program does, in fact, work."

Hopefully, Pennsylvania lawmakers hear her words.

We understand how it works:

Republicans don’t often agree with Democrats. The House and Senate have different priorities. There’s a always a re-election around the corner and parochial issues to consider.

But this shouldn’t be about politics. This is about common sense and protecting at-risk people in dangerous situations.

There’s no good reason this bill shouldn’t sail right through the Legislature and on to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.