May 3, 2016

Assembly Passes Legislative Package to Strengthen Protections for Domestic Violence Survivors

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Judiciary Committee Chair Helene Weinstein today announced the passage of a legislative package that would strengthen protections for domestic violence survivors and empower those affected to reclaim their lives.

"Domestic violence is a crime that knows no boundaries and affects every community in our state," said Heastie. "That is why the Assembly has built on past legislative efforts to protect domestic violence survivors and ensure that they are able to recover."

According to the Domestic Violence Prevention Act 2014 Report to the Governor and Legislature, approximately 186,002 domestic violence crisis calls were received by individual providers across the state.

"This legislative package represents the Assembly's continued commitment to protecting domestic violence survivors," said Weinstein. "Strengthening laws related to orders of protection, preventing the escalation of violent crime and supporting survivors in meaningful ways are necessary steps to reducing domestic violence across the state."

The package includes measures to strengthen orders of protection for survivors of domestic violence. One measure (A.162, Weinstein) would require that when an interpreter has been appointed by the court, he or she is required to translate the terms of an order of protection into the native language of the parties involved to ensure that the terms are understandable. Another bill (A. 260, Weinstein) would remove parties who fail to obey or enforce an order of protection from limited liability protections. An additional measure (A.9686, Bronson) would extend the current pilot programs that allow referees and judicial hearing officers in certain circumstances to hear and make determinations regarding orders of protection applications to help ensure that orders are timely issued.

Other measures included in the package would help domestic violence survivors safely get their lives back on track. One bill (A.274-A, Rozic) would require that phone carriers and cable companies allow a victim of domestic abuse to be released from an account if he or she has an order of protection or certain other documentation of domestic violence. Another measure (A.326-A, Rozic) expands on this notion and would require that cell phone carriers provide an alternate phone number to such victims. In addition to protecting victims at home, another proposal (A.272, Weinstein) would protect victims in the workplace by prohibiting employers from discriminating against victims on the basis of his or her status as a domestic violence survivor. Employers would also be required to provide reasonable accommodations in the event that an employee who is a victim of domestic violence needs to be absent from work for a reasonable time to address certain related issues. Moreover, another measure (A.4409-B, Aubry) would amend the penal law to allow a judge to consider a defendant's status as a victim of domestic violence and expand discretion in sentencing if domestic abuse was a significant factor in commission of the crime.

The package also includes measures to reduce violent crime and homicides that result from domestic violence. Under the Domestic Violence Escalation Prevention Act, an individual that has been convicted of a domestic violence crime would be ineligible to possess or purchase firearms (A.6340, O'Donnell). Another measure (A.5257, Paulin) would require anyone who is convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor to surrender any firearms. Furthermore, another bill (A.9628, Weinstein) would simplify informational notices provided to victims and alert domestic violence victims of the help that the police and domestic violence hotlines can offer in an emergency as well as clarify what services Family Court and Criminal Court can each provide.

Lastly, the package includes measures to ensure that domestic violence survivors get the recovery assistance that they need. One bill (A.1232-A, Lavine) would require hospitals to develop, maintain, and disseminate written policies for the identification, assessment, treatment and referral of confirmed or suspected cases of domestic violence. It would also require that all new and current hospital staff receive training regarding the hospital's domestic violence policies. Another bill (A.1358, Cymbrowitz) would require that health insurers allow victims of domestic violence to designate alternative contact information to receive claim and billing information with respect to their on- going medical care. This bill would additionally require the insurer to protect the confidentiality of this contact information.