The Legislature's Interim Domestic Abuse Study Committee hits the hopper early, offering five of the first six Senate bills for the 2014 session. These five bills would improve protection for domestic abuse victims and increase legal punishments for abusers.

Senate Bill 2 would shield domestic abuse victims from arrest for outstanding warrants. This protection is limited to parents of minor children for the 72 hours after police respond to a domestic abuse call. It only applies to warrants for Class 6 felonies and lesser crimes.

Senate Bill 3 changes the protection order statute by striking the words "family or household member" and inserting "protected party" and "abusing party." Hmmm... are we finding a way here to ensure that protection orders can apply to same-sex couples left otherwise unrecognized and unprotected by South Dakota's regressive laws?

SB 3 also assigns protection order petitions to the judge assigned to any pending litigation between the affected parties, with the intent of improving continuity in such legal proceedings.

Senate Bill 4 ensures that stalkers and abusers are served legal notice of protection order and given time to respond in the issuing jurisdiction before those orders take effect. That may sound like a favor for bad guys, but everyone gets due process.

Senate Bill 5 gives folks alleging domestic abuse or stalking a break. If an individual asks for a protection order against a domestic abuser, but the allegations don't add up to domestic abuse, right now the court would say, "No protection order; dismissed!" The petitioner may be able to make a case for stalking or physical abuse, but (if I understand the current statute correctly) the petitioner has to return to court with a new petition. SB 5 would allow the court to say, "You don't have a case for domestic abuse, but don't leave yet; we may be able to get you a protection order for stalking or physical injury." SB 5 would create "reciprocal discretion" for cases where a petitioner alleges stalking but the judge sees a case for domestic abuse.

Senate Bill 6 is the get-tough portion of these domestic abuse changes. This bill puts a new crime on the books, the commission of domestic abuse in the presence of a child. Beating your wife is bad enough; beating your wife in front of your kids would get you an additional year in jail and $2,000 fine.

SB 6 poses some interesting legal questions. Hurting a loved one in the sanctity of one's home deserves severe punishment. Committing such a crime in front of children is egregious as well. But should we punish a man less for beating his wife because he holds back until the kids have left for school?

I can see the argument that committing violence in front of a child does harm that earns the perpetrator separate punishment. But if that is the case, should we create "role model" or "psychic harm" laws to add punishment for committing other crimes in the presence of children? Do we increase the sentence for aggravated assault for throwing a punch at a guy at a ball game with kids in attendance? Do convenience store robbers get more time for committing their crime while kids are in buying Slurpees?

Don't get me wrong: I'm all about punishing domestic abusers. I'm just curious about what precedent such a "not in front of the children" law may already have and what precedent it may set.