Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, last week introduced the bipartisan Domestic Violence Public Health Emergency Guidance Act to provide guidance and resources to law enforcement agencies responding to increased levels of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She co-introduced the bill along with Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio. The bill directs the Department of Justice to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and relevant domestic violence and law enforcement stakeholders to issue guidance that highlights promising and model practices and resources that federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies can adopt to address domestic violence effectively.

“In Virginia and across the country, we’ve seen a spike in calls to domestic violence hotlines and police during the COVID crisis as many survivors are isolated or trapped with their abuser,” Wexton said in a news release. “Keeping survivors safe means equipping law enforcement officials with the guidance and tools they need to respond safely and effectively to domestic violence calls while preventing the spread of this virus. In my career as a prosecutor, I worked closely with law enforcement on domestic violence cases, and the resources provided through this legislation will help them continue their lifesaving work under these unprecedented circumstances.”

Wexton introduced similar legislation last year in the early months of the pandemic and hoped it would be included in the coronavirus relief package.

Justin McCartney, Wexton’s press secretary, said in an email that “we’re working hard to move it along. It’s a bipartisan priority with a number of bipartisan cosponsors so we are hopeful.”

Many agencies in Virginia and across the country have reported a significant increase in domestic violence calls since the pandemic began. Beginning in March 2020, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance — Virginia’s statewide hotline — saw a 73% increase in contacts.

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