OKLAHOMA CITY – The governor today signed into law the Stephen Bernius Memorial Act, which expands domestic abuse language in state law determining who can obtain a protective order.
House Bill 4374 by Rep. Ross Ford, R-Broken Arrow, was inspired by a tragedy in Ford's House district last year that resulted in the death of Stephen Bernius. He was killed by a man he'd rented a room to but to whom he was not related.
"This young man lost his life because the statute specified a person must be directly related to obtain a protective order," Ford said. "We need to be able to protect people from anyone who might be threatening harm. Broadening this definition could stop someone else from being killed."
The bill modifies the definition of "family or household member" as used in the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act and the Domestic Abuse Reporting Act to include persons not related by blood or marriage living in the same household. It provides a definition of "living in the same household" to mean persons who regularly reside in the same, single dwelling unit; persons wo resided in the dwelling within the past year; or persons who have individual lease agreements where each person has their own private bedroom and shares the common areas.
Ford said Bernius' mother asked him to run the legislation after her son was killed.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, Bernius lost his job and was in fear of losing his house, so he rented out two of his bedrooms to gain some income. One of the tenants started threatening Bernius and others in the home. Bernius tried to get a protective order against the individual but was told he couldn't because he was not related to him by blood or in a relationship with him.
Several days later, the disgruntled resident met Bernius at the door of his home, shot him multiple times and killed him.
Sen. Darrel Weaver is the principal Senate author of the bill.
“While this legislation was spurred by a tragic situation, I am grateful we have been able to give more Oklahomans living in dangerous situations the ability to obtain protective orders,” Weaver said. “I’m hopeful that with this measure, we can help save lives.”
HB4374 has an emergency clause that allows it to take effect immediately.