State lawmakers introduce bills to protect survivors of domestic violence

By: - October 23, 2019 12:44 pm

Sen. Sylvia Santana introduces bills to protect domestic violence victims | David Olds, Michigan Senate Democrats

Domestic and sexual violence survivors could gain increased protections at work and home from a bill package introduced Wednesday by members of the Michigan Progressive Women’s Caucus. 

At a news conference on Wednesday morning at the state Capitol, members of the caucus and sponsors of the bills gathered to explain the need for new laws and for adjusting existing legislation.

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

This package follows several other bills introduced in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month to better survivor’s lives.

State Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) read a statement from a domestic violence advocate and survivor, Ashton Brei Steele, at the news conference. 

Steele, the founder and president of Her World Initiative, which raises awareness for domestic violence, said it is the responsibility of citizens to tell elected officials about the hardships they face because “they are humans who like the rest of us cannot understand a problem until they become properly educated about it.” 

Steele’s statement encouraged those who have not experienced the impacts of domestic or sexual violence to reach out and talk to survivors about their needs.

“Domestic violence and abuse laws are antiquated,” Steele wrote in the statement read by Santana. “Most of them were put into place decades ago and were decided upon based on the cultural perceptions that allowed injustices and abuse to prevail in the first place. These inadequate laws have resulted in a cycle of suspended failures that have ruined far too many laws and have been way too costly to taxpayers.”

The bill package would:

  • Add incidents of stalking as protected uses of paid sick leave in the Paid Medical Leave Act of 2019. Domestic violence and sexual assault are already protected uses.
  • Bar landlords and real estate agents from discriminating against survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Eviction protection would also be extended to survivors of domestic violence.
  • Protect an individual’s ability to receive unemployment benefits from impacts of domestic and sexual violence or stalking.

The bills would allow survivors to take back power and rebuild their lives, said state Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods).

“As things stand, survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking face numerous barriers to leaving their situations and getting on the road to rebuilding their life due to our state’s lack of protections and support,” Yancey said.

Earlier this month, another bill package was introduced aiming to prevent perpetrators from finding the addresses of domestic and sexual violence survivors. 

A new Address Confidentiality Act passed unanimously through the state Senate on Tuesday. The act would require all government entities to use confidential addresses given to survivors of violence to mail items like licenses and voter registrations. The bill will now go through the state House for consideration.

Similar bills passed the Senate last year, but were not brought up for votes in the lower chamber, according to the Detroit News.

Rep. Kara Hope speaking on House Democrats’ bills for workers | House Democrats photo

The legislation introduced on Wednesday is just the start of what needs to be done to protect survivors of domestic violence, said state Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt).

Survivors of violence can’t always gain the protections they need to reclaim their lives and can end up stuck in the same situation or on the streets. 

Hope said she believes that current laws are not fulfilling the needs of Michigan and the Progressive Women’s Caucus and its allies are looking to end “the shameful cycle” of violence.

“When addressing this issue, it’s important to remember that no two cases of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking are the same, just as no two survivors are the same,” Hope said. “But often our laws don’t take that into consideration. That’s why our bill package introduced today is so crucial for ensuring protection for every survivor in order to have their unique needs met.”

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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols is a former Michigan Advance intern. She is a Michigan State University graduate who has reported for several publications, including MLive and Michigan State University’s award-winning student paper, the State News, where she covered the many tendrils of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.