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.

Bills would let victims of domestic or sexual violence or stalking get out of leases

When a person is trying to get out of a domestic violence situation one of their needs is a place to live, sometimes for children as well as their self.  If that person is under a lease agreement, property owners are under no legal obligation to release that person.  This could have lasting repercussions both financially and in finding another place to live.

Representative Jean Evans (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bills 243, 544, and 683 Sponsored by Representatives Jim Neely (R-Cameron), Jean Evans (R-Manchester), and Raychel Proudie (D-Ferguson), are aimed at helping such individuals.

“This legislation would go a long way to help victims get a safe place to live,” said Heather Silverman with the National Council of Jewish Women – St. Louis.

Those bills would prevent anyone at risk of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking from being evicted, being denied tenancy, or violating a lease agreement as a result of that risk.  A person who was a victim or in imminent danger of being victimized would be able to use that as a defense if a landlord takes them to court.  The bills would establish what evidence a landlord must accept as proof of such situations.

Kate Heinen with the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault told the House Committee on Children and Families, “In 2014 … 23,000 women and children were denied shelter [in Missouri] because the shelters were full, and shelters are often full because people arrive in one and then realize that there’s going to be a much longer trajectory before they can access safe housing because of their disrupted rental history, because there’s no laws to protect them.

Representative Raychel Proudie (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Allowing someone to be resolved of their lease agreement when they show some supporting documentation from a local program agency – an order of protection, a court record, anything that’s listed in the bill – is profound.  It’s huge.  It’s going to save lives,” said Heinen.

Heinen said individuals attempting to escape domestic violence often find it difficult to find a new place to live after facing problems getting out of a former residence.

“Either an eviction judgement on their record as a result of experiencing violence and being seen as a troubled tenant, or their rental history looks spotty because they’re seen as a troubled tenant as a result of experiencing violence, and then it makes it impossible for them to rent in their city or other places in their state,” said Heinen.

Representative Proudie’s legislative assistant, Holly Bickmeyer, told the committee she was 14 when she lost her mother due to domestic violence.  She thinks legislation like these bills could have made a difference in her life.

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I feel like if something like this had been in place to where we would have been able to leave, it’s entirely possible that I would still have my mother today,” said Bickmeyer.  “Speaking as someone who has lived through that, I can tell you how much of a help something like this would have been.”

The committee held hearings on HBs 243 and 544 on Tuesday morning.  There was no opposition voiced.  Daryl Dewe, a registered lobbyist for the St. Louis Apartment Association, joined those testifying in support.

“Our landlords, most of all, we want our tenants to be safe and secure,” said Dewe.  “If that means, in a situation like this, helping them to a safe space more easily, then it’s the right thing to do.”

The bills would allow landlords to impose a termination fee when a tenant or lessee wants to terminate a lease early.

The committee has not yet voted on HBs 243 and 544.

Bipartisan House bills would close ‘loophole’ that allows domestic abusers to have guns

A bipartisan effort to change Missouri gun laws aims to keep domestic abusers from having firearms.

Representatives Donna Lichtenegger (left) and Tracy McCreery co-present their bills aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of individuals with a history of domestic violence. (photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

House Bills 2276 and 1849 are sponsored by Representatives Donna Lichtenegger (R-Jackson) and Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis), respectively.  Both bills would expand the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm to include those who have been convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or who have a full order of protection against them.

Representative Lichtenegger said the issue is personal for her because of her own experience with domestic violence.

“When I was four I can vividly remember my mother getting beaten nightly by my drunken father.  Because of that I ended up in a children’s home because he threatened to throw acid in my face,” said Lichtenegger.  “When I was 15 or 16 – don’t remember the age, really, because I don’t remember the night very well – but someone came into my room and beat the crap out of my head.  There’s just no other way to put that.”

Both representatives say the bill would fill in a “loophole” in Missouri law created by the passage of Senate Bill 656 in 2016.  Under the state’s original concealed carry law, Missourians who were found guilty of a domestic violence misdemeanor or who were subject to an order of protection were denied concealed carry permits.  That prohibition was nullified by SB 656.  Federal law denies guns to those with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions or full orders of protection against them, but since Missouri law doesn’t, only federal agents and courts can pursue such cases in Missouri.

“This has been part of federal law since 1997 but the only place that it appeared in Missouri law prior to the enactment of SB 656 was in our CCW chapter, so when we passed 656 we kind of accidentally took those protections out,” said McCreery.  “This actually, truly is an issue that shouldn’t be about political party, so I hope the fact that we’ve worked together on this kind of symbolizes how this is just a good, sensible public policy.”

The bill was presented Tuesday night to the House Committee on General Laws.  Several advocates for domestic violence victims told lawmakers they strongly support the legislation.

Judy Kile, Executive Director of COPE, a shelter in Lebanon, told the committee her twin sister’s husband shot and killed her in a murder-suicide.  He had a history of domestic violence.

“Yesterday was our birthday but one of us isn’t here,” said Kile.  “We need to get the guns out of their hands if they are known to be domestic violence offenders.”

Carla Simpson, who works for New House Shelter in Kansas City, said her sister’s husband also shot her to death in a murder-suicide.

“My brother-in-law was pretty much a law-abiding citizen except for the domestic violence; except for the abuse he caused my sister and he had been to court and he had been convicted of domestic violence,” said Simpson.

She said if a judge had been able to order that her brother-in-law not be allowed to have guns, “I think that Mike would have thought twice about having guns in his house and my sister may still be alive today.  I’m here in her memory.”

Both bills also make gun possession illegal in Missouri for those who are unlawfully in the country or have renounced his or her citizenship.

No one spoke against the proposals in Tuesday night’s hearing.  The committee has not voted on either bill.  Last year similar legislation received a hearing by a House committee but that panel did not vote on it.

Bill aiming to keep guns away from domestic abusers filed

A bill has been filed that aims to keep guns out of the hands of those with a history of domestic violence.

Representative Donna Lichtenegger (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Donna Lichtenegger (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Missourians found guilty of a domestic violence misdemeanor or who were the subject of an order of protection were denied concealed carry permits until the legislature last year overturned the veto of SB 565.  That allowed anyone who can legally carry a gun to carry one concealed even without a permit.  Domestic violence advocates said that meant the one protection victims had from their abusers having a gun had been removed.

Cape Girardeau Republican Donna Lichtenegger’s legislation, House Bill 766, would mirror Missouri law to a 1997 federal law.  It would expand the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm to include those who have been convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or who have orders of protection against them.

“This bill was worked out between the domestic violence community and the [National Rifle Association],” said Lichtenegger.

Colleen Coble is the Chief Executive Officer of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.  Her organization was one of those concerned about what current Missouri gun law might mean for victims.  She said HB 766 is the fix that law needs.

“It will allow local law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and courts to protect victims in Missouri from the very people who have hurt them – from domestic violence offenders,” said Coble.  “It is dangerous to allow people who have already been convicted in Missouri courts for using violence against their family members … to have guns.  This is very common sense.  It is narrowly limited to keeping guns out of the hands of those who have already hurt their families.”

Lichtenegger said she felt strongly about filing such a bill because of domestic violence committed by her father when she was a child against her, her mother and her brother.

According to the Highway Patrol, 74-percent of the 30 domestic violence related homicides in Missouri in 2015 involved a firearm.  In 2011 it was 74-percent of 54 such homicides.  The American Journal of Public Health said when a gun is present in a case of domestic violence, there is a 500-percent greater chance of an intimate partner killing his or her partner.

HB 766 includes prohibitions against gun possession by anyone who is in the United States illegally; has been dishonorably discharged from the military; or has renounced United States citizenship.

The bill also includes an emergency clause, which if adopted, would make it effective as soon as it is signed into law by the governor.  Lichtenegger said the earlier this could become law, the better, “because this is a matter of life and death.  We do not want to lose another person due to this horrible, horrible violence.”