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