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.

House proposes criminalizing ‘revenge porn’

The Missouri House has voted to criminalize what is often called, “revenge porn;” sharing or threatening to share private sexual images of a person without that person’s consent.  Such sharing often happens by the uploading of those images to the internet.

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1558 would make such sharing of images a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and would make threatening to share them a felony carrying up to four years in prison.  The bill covers photographs, videos, digital recordings, and other depictions.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron), who said it’s simply an issue of common sense.

“I’m not afraid of the subject.  A lot of people can’t handle certain subjects and it doesn’t bother me to talk about it so there it is,” said Neely.

St. Louis Democrat Stacey Newman thanked Neely for tackling an issue that she said predominately effects women.

“I know that none of us would want our family members, our daughters, our granddaughters; anyone involved in a situation where photographs like this would be used to punish,” said Newman.

The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence supports the legislation.  Public Policy Director Jennifer Carter Dochler said people who have been victims of “revenge porn” face a number of issues.

“Often times they feel very vulnerable and exposed because they did something to establish intimacy with a partner and now it’s been used against them and they don’t know who all’s seen it.  This wasn’t their choice that it was being distributed, they don’t know who’s seen it, they don’t know what’s being done with it.  Something was used against them that was not its purpose,” said Carter Dochler.

Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht was glad to see Republicans and Democrats come together to pass this bill on an issue he thinks most Missourians think is already addressed in law.

“A number of people that I’ve talked to, both from regular attorneys’ perspectives to the constituents that call me and express their concerns, everybody is a little bit surprised that something like this hasn’t been done already,” said Ellebracht.  “I think that it was a sorely needed measure that we needed to pass to put the law in this state where people expect it to be.”

In addition to creating the crime of “nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images,” the bill allows victims to file civil suits against those accused of the crime.

HB 1558 passed out of the House 149-1.  It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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.”