NCJW takes leading role in bill supporting victims of domestic violence

The Jewish Light

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

By David Baugher

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The Missouri General Assembly is considering legislation that would mandate unpaid time off for victims of domestic violence to attend court dates.

“A lot of these women work in low-wage jobs where they don’t have benefits or vacation or any kind of time off,” said Ellen Alper, executive director of the St. Louis section of the National Council of Jewish Women. “They run the risk of potentially losing their job if they have to leave to go to court and get an order of protection. It’s our philosophy that no woman should ever have to choose between her life and her employment.”

NCJW has taken a leading role in fighting for the bill, which it has been working on for about two years as part of a coalition of domestic violence service providers.

Alper, who says domestic violence affects one out of four women, recently testified in favor of the bill before the state Senate. The measure would cover victims of sexual assault as well as domestic violence.

The bill, SB712, was heard in committee three weeks ago. Last week, in a move to build consensus behind the measure, a substitute was proposed, which would strip from the original bill provisions guaranteeing time off for medical, legal and therapy services, leaving only court appearances.

Alper called the proposed modification a good compromise.

“We’re happy with that,” she said. “We know that it is very difficult when you are working with the business community to ask employers to give their employees lots of time off.”

Accountability was another reason for the change.

“One of the issues that came up in committee was the need to be able to verify that if people are taking off for these kinds of services, they are actually where they said they are going to be,” she said. “Court is an easy one in that regard because every time you have to appear in court, you get a date ahead of time so you can schedule it, and you get documentation while in court that shows you were there.”

Alper said that pursuing remedies in court can take a long time, which can make victims of domestic violence afraid of losing their jobs and economic independence.

“If they don’t have the wherewithal to maintain their job, then a lot of times they go back to their abuser,” she said. “The goal of the legislation was to put something in place to allow them to maintain their position so they didn’t have to do that.”

Sen. John Lamping, a 24th District Republican and chairman of the Seniors, Family and Pensions Committee that is considering the bill, said the changes would strengthen its chances.

“I think that we can get an overwhelming consensus that victims of domestic violence deserve their day in court to protect both themselves and their families,” he said.

Lamping, who represents a St. Louis County district that includes Creve Coeur and Chesterfield, said the probability of passage is high and thinks the final product will emerge from his panel this week.

“I’ve been working really closely with NCJW on this matter,” he said. “They’ve done a great job and are very effective at working with legislators.

“If we pass the Senate bill and send it to the House, then the Senate bill itself will move through the House,” Lamping said. “I’d be surprised if that’s not how we do it.”

Rep. Jill Schupp and Rep. Jacob Hummel sponsored the House version of the bill (HB 1717).

“Whether it originates in the House or in the Senate I don’t think is as important as the fact that we are going to provide some relief to people who need to receive services and just don’t have the vacation time,” said Schupp, a Democrat who represents the Creve Coeur area.

Schupp said she is optimistic about the measure’s eventual passage, adding that it wold not affect the employer’s bottom line because the time off is unpaid.

“I think that it is common sense,” she said.

The Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Gina Walsh, a Democrat who represents north St. Louis County, said she hopes the Legislature can act on the bill before its spring break, March 15 to 24. She lauded the NCJW for helping her to build support for the measure.

“Without their involvement, there would be no bill,” she said.

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