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By Jojo Dass

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (October 2, 2000 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---Governor Pedro P. Tenorio has signed into law a bill that aims to strengthen the campaign against domestic violence.

Advocates hailed the new law as a "monumental step" toward reducing domestic abuse incidents.

In signing the anti-domestic violence bill, Tenorio urged lawmakers to "expeditiously address" concerns raised by the courts on some provisions.

Kevin Lynch, the Attorney General's Office's chief prosecutor and head of the Task Force on Domestic Violence, said the proposed amendments involve minor details including filing fees for victims.

Lynch said there have been "no major concerns about the real substance" of the law.

Lawmakers present during the signing ceremony said, "It's about time the measure is signed into law."

Sen. Ricardo S. Atalig (R-Rota) - the author of Senate Bill 12-34 and chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Welfare and Programs - said a consensus was reached to have an anti-domestic violence measure in place and have it refined later to be fully consistent with the community's needs.

Advocates and lawmakers agreed the new law is "not a perfect one." But they said it is better to have one than none at all.

Laura T. Flores, Task Force on Domestic Violence coordinator, said the special body is "very grateful" that the administration and the Legislature have "taken a stand" and passed the bill.

"There is still a lot of work to do," she said.

"This bill really gives us the power to start putting in place what needs to be done. We need to look at the problems seriously and from there determine how we are going to reduce family violence," said Flores.

She said the enactment of the law is a "monumental step."

Flores said the authorities still do not have a clear picture on the extent of the problem about domestic violence as most incidents have largely gone unreported.

The new law, said Flores, makes it easier for the government to track these incidents.

According to Flores, the Department of Public Safety receives an average of 65 cases of domestic violence a month.

Half the number gets services from several social services groups.

"We do not have accurate data collection. We need to start getting data, to start collecting it, to really assess the true picture," said Flores.

Flores said the reported cases "do not necessarily reflect the magnitude of the problem."

The new law allows the victim of domestic violence to be given government protection issued by the court while legal proceedings are in progress regarding the complaint filed. Also, the legislation creates a halfway house where victims can get assistance.

It also has provisions on custody and visitation of children.

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