Dating violence bill approved by Senate

Published: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 12:15 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE - After passing the Senate on Wednesday, a proposed law that would provide victims of dating violence with protections afforded victims of domestic violence will head to Gov. Charlie Crist.

The legislation is in response to the murder of 19-year-old Tiffany Barwick, a graduate of West Point High School in Ocala, and her 22-year-old friend, Michael Ruschak.

Barwick had filed at least two complaints with police about her ex-boyfriend's threatening behavior and requested protection from law enforcement agencies. But she was told there was no law to allow intervention based on the type of harassment and threats she reported.

On Sept. 24 last year, her ex-boyfriend, 21-year-old Andrew Allred, shot and killed Barwick and Ruschak at a home in Oviedo.

Allred pleaded guilty to the two murders during a hearing in the Seminole County Jail on Wednesday, around the same time senators unanimously approved the Barwick-Ruschak Act.

The act allows law enforcement officers to act on threats of violence in dating situations as long as the relationship has existed for six months or longer and has met certain standards that transcend mere friendship.

The House sponsor Rep. Kurt Kelly, R-Ocala, said the victory is bittersweet. The bill has already passed the House.

"I'm elated that we're able to pass the legislation, but I'm heartbroken over the family's tragedy,'' said Kelly, adding that he hopes this type of legislation will be adopted at the federal level.

In addition to allowing law enforcement to act on threats in dating relationships, the legislation also allows law enforcement to direct dating violence victims to medical care and domestic violence centers. The victims would be given forms that explained their rights and remedies, and a police report would be required.

Also, as in domestic violence cases, police officers could make an arrest based on probable cause. In Barwick's case, law enforcement officials told her they could not do much since they had not directly witnessed the threats.

"We see this as a phenomenal next step to protect domestic violence victims,'' said Tiffany Carr, the CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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