Proposed bill would aid domestic violence victims

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Sep. 24—Lawmakers will file a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would, if approved, allow victims of domestic violence to collect unemployment payments if they are forced to quit a job because of an abuser.

The bill, which will likely be filed next month, was discussed Thursday in the interim committee on economic development and workforce investment. The bill's primary sponsors are Rep. Nima Kulkarni, a Louisville Democrat, and Rep. Samara Heavrin, a Leitchfield Republican.

Kulkarni said, if approved, the bill would allow domestic violence victims to receive unemployment payments after leaving a job due to domestic or dating violence, if they provide documentation to support the abuse. Documentation could include police reports, court and medical records, statements by domestic violence services officials and sworn statements from the victim.

Kulkarni said 39 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C. have similar laws on their books.

The bill "doesn't change anything" about the state's unemployment system, Kulkarni said.

"It just adds this category," she said.

The bill, which had a number of co-sponsors, was filed for the 2021 legislative session, but was not called for consideration.

Tanya Thomas, executive director for Springhaven Domestic Violence Program in Elizabethtown, said abusers often sabotage the victim's ability to work by harassing the victim or the workplace.

"Financial abuse is one of the primary tactics abusers use to keep victims trapped," Thomas said.

For example, the abuser will make multiple calls to the victim throughout the day, circle the business or park in the parking lot, or even come sit in the business' lobby, Thomas said.

Thomas cited a 2017 report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research which said 83% of domestic violence victims surveyed reported their abuser had negatively affected their ability to work.

"We need to support survivors who have lost a job due to domestic violence," Thomas said.

Kulkarni said unemployment payments would come out of the state's unemployment fund, rather than from the business the victim was forced to quit.

Katie Showalter, an assistant professor of social work with the University of Kentucky, said the state has a higher rate of domestic violence and stalking than the national average. One in every three women in Kentucky has experienced intimate partner violence, Showalter said.

"Kentucky is the second-highest in the U.S. in rates of domestic violence," Showalter said. Victims can lose up to six years of employment, from factors such as not being able to maintain a job because of an abuser, Showalter said.

Providing unemployment payments to victims who leave jobs would help victims "gain stability in their lives," Showalter said.

Jillian Carden, director of Silverleaf Sexual Trauma Recovery Services in Elizabethtown, said unemployment payments would give victims the resources to get counseling and therapy, which would help them maintain steady employment.

"The victims want to work," Carden said. "They want a better life, they want to pay bills .... They are willing to do what it takes, but it just takes time."

Kulkarni said a counseling or therapy requirement was not included in the bill. Heavrin said some survivors of domestic violence are not immediately ready for counseling.

"It's hard to push someone to counseling when they are not ready," Heavrin said. "I think we need to be careful to not have a mandate" for counseling.

The bill would also require workers who handle unemployment insurance claims to receive training about domestic violence and for the state to present data to lawmakers on how many such claims are filed.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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