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The sister of a domestic violence victim who was severely injured when her husband acted on his threats to burn down their house wrote a letter to the Legislature about the need for a change in the law covering protection orders. 

"My family has been deeply affected by the current law that denied my sister Janet Franks-Bohm a protection order and hearing. She was denied without any reason or help to further her claim," said Pamela Sorgen, who was at the Legislature on Tuesday, along with her niece, Amanda Bohm, Janet's daughter, to listen to debate on a bill that would streamline the protection order process. 

Franks-Bohm had filed for divorce in December. 

She believed her husband would burn down their house. He also had threatened to cut off her head, hands and feet so her body could not be identified in a fire.

The domestic violence victim reported his threats when she applied for a protection order, her sister wrote in the letter. But the application was dismissed without an opportunity for her request to be heard by a judge, Sorgen said. 

In February, the man started the house on fire, she said. And Franks-Bohm suffered third-degree burns on 60 percent of her body, and is still in critical condition and has had multiple surgeries. She cannot talk or move. 

"I cannot for the life of me understand why a judge would deny Janet's claim," Sorgen said. 

If there had been a hearing, the judge would have granted the protection order and the fire would not have happened, she believes. The police had been called to the house that night before Carl Bohm set the fire, but without a protection order did not remove him. 

Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh introduced the bill (LB532) that would make those changes Sorgen was asking for on behalf of her sister. It would clarify, streamline and make more uniform the three types of protection orders for harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence. 

Victims often pursue protection orders without the assistance of an attorney, Cavanaugh said. Courts need enough information to guide their decisions, but without an attorney filing the application, don't always get it. 

"When a victim courageously speaks up and asks for help, we must ensure that they are heard and that the process is as simple and clear as possible," Cavanaugh said. 

Right after a victim makes a decision to leave is one of the most high-risk times for homicide and more violence, Cavanaugh said. Protection orders are particularly important at that time.

With the bill, if a protection order is not immediately granted, a hearing would be required within 14 days. 

Protection orders are more than a piece of paper, but a plan and a path for safety for victims and their children, Cavanaugh said. 

It's an important step in protecting people who are victims of harassment, domestic violence and sexual abuse, said Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Lathrop.

With the bill, people who don't know how to properly fill out the application would get a second chance to seek help in filling it out properly so the judge can make a determination rather than simply deny the application.

Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann prioritized LB532, saying he had met with the sister of a victim of prolonged harassment and violence who was shot and killed by her abuser in a murder-suicide a year ago in Alliance. 

Speaker Jim Scheer said his wife also knew a woman with three young children who had been threatened and abused by her husband. The woman was afraid to leave because she believed her children would be at risk. 

One night, Scheer's wife and another woman were called to the woman's home to pick up the children because their father had killed their mother, his wife. And he had left the children alone in the home with their mother's body. 

The man was located on a farm south of Pilger several days later, after he had hung himself. 

"In honor of her, I would wish that we move forward with this bill," Scheer said. 

The bill advanced from first round on a 41-0 vote.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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