Prefiled bill aims to make domestic violence victims’ escape from abusers easier

A bill prefiled for the 2020 session of the Missouri General Assembly aims to make it easier for victims of domestic violence to escape abusive environments.

Representative Chris Dinkins (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1300 would allow individuals, with the assistance of domestic violence shelter staff, to get free copies of birth certificates.

“Individuals who flee the abusive situation often times don’t have the opportunity to grab important documents that they may need later on.  A lot of times they just leave with the clothes on their backs,” said Representative Chris Dinkins (R-Annapolis), the sponsor of House Bill 1300.

“In order to help them get back on their feet the [resource centers] have to try to help them get jobs and get their kids in school, and all these things require a birth certificate,” said Dinkins.  “If you don’t have your driver’s license you need a birth certificate to get your driver’s license.  If you don’t have a bank account, you need some form of identification to set up a bank account … nowadays businesses do direct deposits for paychecks, so you need a bank account in order to receive your payment.”

The Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence’s Public Policy Director, Jennifer Carter Dochler, said such vital documents provide abusers with another way to control their victims.  Withholding them can make it more difficult for a victim to leave.

“Other times we see an abusive partner intentionally destroying those materials.  They know it’s going to be a difficulty for an individual so they intentionally destroy them,” said Carter Dochler.

Having access to birth certificates would be key to ensuring that victims escaping abusive situations don’t have to return to them.

“Once they do take that important step to get away from [an abuser] we need to do everything that we can to keep them from falling back into that trap,” said Dinkins.

Domestic violence shelters in Missouri have been covering the cost of birth certificates for clients who need them but those shelters have limited resources and the cost is becoming an issue for them.

Dinkins offered similar legislation in the 2019 session and it nearly passed, despite being introduced on the last day for filing bills.  Lawmakers heard then that the $15 cost for a new copy of a birth certificate can be prohibitive to victims, who often have little or no money and need that very document in order to get a job.  It is a further burden when they must pay that $15 for each child under their care.

Dinkins said what slowed the bill’s progress in 2019 its estimated cost to the state, which she said was grossly overestimated.

“[The state is] already producing these birth certificates, it’s just the fact that we would no longer be charging the organizations to have them produce these … but they were saying it was going to take two to eight new full-time employees, and I don’t understand how it would take eight new full-time employees to do something that they’re already doing,” said Dinkins.

Dinkins said helping people escaping abuse get back into the work force would further offset any cost the bill could create for the state.

The 2019 bill passed out of the House and out of a Senate committee but was not voted on by the full Senate.  Dinkins is optimistic that this year’s earlier start means the legislation has a better chance of reaching Governor Mike Parson (R).

The legislative session begins January 8.

House considering free birth certificates for individuals escaping domestic violence

House lawmakers are being asked to consider another measure meant to help victims of domestic violence get away from abusers and move on with their lives.

Representative Chris Dinkins (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Often individuals who have left a home where abuse occurs have left behind birth certificates, as well as other documents and identification that they must get new copies of but cannot without those certificates.  The fee to get a new copy is often a burden to a survivor faced with numerous other expenses while trying to start down a new path in life, according to Representative Chris Dinkins (R-Annapolis).

“To come up with $15 per kid to get them enrolled in school is sometimes a pretty [significant] hardship on them,” said Dinkins.

Dinkins is sponsoring House Bill 1135, which would allow people working with a shelter to get free copies of birth certificates.

She was presented with the proposal by the Southeast Missouri Family Violence Council.  Assistant Director Tracy Carroll told the House Committee on Children and Families that abusers often use vital documents in their efforts to control a victim.

“The abuser either burns or throws away or keeps in a lock box their driver’s license, social security, their birth certificate, and so that’s a form of abuse – control, and so what I found was we had to start from the very bottom with them and try to get their identification,” said Carroll.

Carroll said most of the women that come into their shelter need this kind of help.  Last year that included 200 of the 263 people that came in, yet the shelter, which is a nonprofit agency, had no budget for securing new copies of documents.

“We scrounged that money … we were digging through our purses because everybody needs a birth certificate.  They can’t get a job, they can’t send their kids to school,” said Carroll.

In one case Carroll said a mother in the shelter had eight children.  At $15 dollars apiece, that was a particular hardship for her as she tried to get them enrolled in school while escaping an abusive situation.

Carroll said any cost the State of Missouri sees would be offset by victims being able to get their lives on track.

“They’ll be able to be employed, they’ll be able to get an education, they’ll be able to vote,” said Carroll.  “Most of the women in our shelter have not been allowed to vote.”

Committee chair Sheila Solon (R-St. Joseph) said people escaping abuse have good reason for not having these documents on hand.

“I know when I’ve had constituents call my office and it’s a domestic violence situation, I always tell them, ‘Don’t go back home.  Get to the shelter,’ so that’s probably, most of the time, why they don’t have their documents,” said Solon.  “They’re doing the wise thing and not returning and trying to retrieve those.”

An individual would have to provide documentation from a shelter to prove that he or she is involved with such an agency.  The bill would only allow the fee for each eligible individual’s birth certificate to be waived one time.

The committee has not voted on HB 1135.