Unemployment benefits for domestic abuse victims advances in House
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One in four women have suffered abuse by an intimate partner.

It can be hard to hide from an assailant who knows your place of employment. But new legislation advancing in the House could provide respite for domestic abuse victims.

The House Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously advanced a bill (HB 563) allowing victims to receive unemployment benefits should they have to quit their jobs to evade abusers.

“Many victims of domestic violence stay in terrible situations because they perceive them as insurmountable, whether it’s shelter or financial security,” said state Rep. Dotie Joseph, the bill’s sponsor.

“In some instances, they are able to escape to a safe place — a new residence, a relative’s home or even a shelter. A lot of times, unfortunately, a perpetrator still knows where they work.”

The North Miami Democrat’s bill prohibits certain victims of domestic violence from being disqualified for benefits.

Should the bill become law, Florida would be the 42nd state to pass similar legislation.

Joseph, a lawyer who represents businesses in her day job, said she’s acutely aware of employers’ needs as well as those of victims.

The bill includes protections for employers, and there are also provisions limiting the impact of decreased productivity.

But she said there’s also a significant benefit of reducing the risk of violence in the workplace should the bill become law.

In order to obtain unemployment benefits, victims need to show a reasonable effort to preserve employment — short of risking further violence. They also must provide documentation of domestic violence, such as an injunction.

The legislation should affect a small number of individuals each year, and a staff analysis said the legislation will likely have an insignificant impact on state funds.

But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports abuse remains a significant problem in America. About 1 in four women and 1 in 9 men were at some point victims of sexual violence, physical or stalking by an intimate partner.

“My prayer is nobody has to use this law,” Joseph said. “But if they do, help is available.”

The bill advances to the House Commerce Committee. Companion legislation (SB 990) in the Senate, sponsored by Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville, has already advanced through Senate Commerce and Tourism and awaits a vote in the Judiciary Committee.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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