LANSING, MICH. - Wearing the purple dresses, tops, scarves and jackets — the color that represents domestic violence awareness — members of the state's Progressive Women's Caucus announced a five-bill package of legislation Thursday that could offer support to survivors as they try to flee abusive relationships and rebuild their lives.
"We want to make sure that every survivor has the resources they need to put their lives back on track and to move forward without fear or intimidation," said state Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor.
The legislation, House Bills 5247-5251, would:
- Require that employers who offer sick leave as a fringe benefit to allow victims of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking to use that sick leave to get help or receive services.
- Allow survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to qualify for unemployment benefits if they lose their job for reasons associated with that abuse.
- Prevent landlords and real estate agents from discriminating against survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
- Provide eviction protection for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
- Require anyone accused of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to relinquish all firearms if that person is legally served a personal protection order.
The bills, said state Rep. Vanessa Guerra, D-Saginaw, ensure that some of the legal gaps that fail to protect survivors in Michigan are addressed. Among those gaps is allowing victims of intimate partner and gender violence to get help without losing their wages.
"Survivors typically have to miss work to get legal assistance, medical assistance and counseling," Guerra said. "Survivors do not choose for this to happen to them, and they certainly should not be punished by losing a day's pay from their jobs while working through the consequences of their abuse."
She cited a statistic from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in adding that survivors of intimate partner violence lose 8 million days of paid work every year.
Nicole Beverly, 44, of Ypsilanti Township counts herself as among the lucky ones. She survived domestic violence and stalking involving her ex-husband, Kevin Beverly, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2012 on an aggravated stalking conviction.
Since then, she has been an advocate for survivors, and is working with the Progressive Women's Caucus to talk about the problems victims face when they try to leave an abuser.
Nichole Beverly a domestic violence survivor, speaks during a press conference held by the Michigan Progressive Women's Caucus' Gender Violence Task Force to introduce a package of bills meant to address gaps in state law to better support survivors of gender and domestic violence Thursday, November 9, 2017 at Anderson House building in Lansing, MI. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
"While my experiences have been frightening and they have been at times frustrating and difficult, I am, in many ways, one of the lucky ones," said Nicole Beverly, a social worker who has two sons with her ex-husband. "I was lucky to have a job at the time that my husband was stalking me actively that allowed me to leave for two weeks to seek refuge in Canada. I was lucky to have a job that moved my location to protect me when he was on the loose for five days and no one knew his whereabouts. They could have fired me.
"I was lucky to be at a job that allowed me time off for multiple court dates that had to be rescheduled time and time again. Many domestic violence survivors lose their jobs as a result of stalking and revictimization. Then they're forced to either go back to their abusers or oftentimes will end up homeless.
"I was also lucky to have a family and friends who could help us after we left and replace all the belongings that we left behind. I was again lucky to have an understanding landlord that let me out of my lease early because my ex-husband was able to find us through a utility company that gave him our address.
"Many victims become homeless when they are not allowed to move to get out of their leases ... it's one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and children."
That's why the landlord and real estate protections written into the legislation are so important, Guerra said.
"It's terrible enough that survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking have not felt supported by laws that we as legislators are responsible for crafting," she said. "It is worse yet that they often find themselves on the streets as a result of their abusive situations."
Karen Lewis, founder of The Angel House, a Livonia-based nonprofit that helps domestic violence survivors escape abusive situations, said she's grateful these issues have been brought to the fore.
"When I lost my daughter and my grandchild, she was not able to break her lease," Lewis said.
Her daughter, Tracy Renee Anderson, was 27 years old and eight months pregnant when her boyfriend fatally stabbed her in March 2014 in Texas.
"She had no choice. She stayed with her abuser and she was killed," Lewis said.
The caucus hopes the package will get bipartisan support, which could be tricky in a Republican-controlled Legislature. That's particularly so after the Senate passed a three-bill package Wednesday that would broaden gun privileges allowing for the concealed carry of handguns in places that have traditionally been off-limits to guns, such as schools, churches, day care centers, bars and stadiums.
The gun portion of the domestic violence legislation would require abusers who've been issued personal protection orders because of a domestic violence, stalking or a sexual assault incident to relinquish their firearms to law enforcement.
"Our Republican counterparts often talk about 'the good guys' with guns. I think this is a clear case where the person — whether male or female — with the gun who is contributing to domestic violence is not one of the good guys," said state Rep. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor. "And so, I would hope that they would be able to recognize that and get behind that portion of the package — and well, the entire package."
She added that protecting survivors of gender and intimate partner violence really shouldn't be a partisan issue.
"I think that we really need to stress that this cuts across everybody," Geiss said. "Domestic violence knows no socioeconomic level, it knows no race, it knows no religion, it knows no sexual orientation. ... So to make this a partisan issue is detrimental to our state, it's detrimental to our constituents, to our residents. We really need to stop thinking about it as, 'Oh, this is a partisan issue,' because we are allegedly here to help the people we are serving. We should be doing things that are going to elevate them and protect them. To do anything other than that really makes us derelict in our duties."
While Nicole Beverly said this package of bills is a major step forward, she said she's concerned that it lacks an address confidentiality component that would allow survivors to shield their addresses from their abusers by requiring businesses, government offices and other organizations to prevent disclosure of the addresses of victims.
"That's one of my biggest concerns as we were believing my ex-husband was going to be released from prison," she said. "Actually, Oct. 24 was the date he was set for release until the attorney general brought new charges."
Kevin Beverly remains in jail awaiting trials in three counties on new charges of witness intimidation, extortion and retaliation for reporting a crime.
Defendant Kevin Beverly is escorted by guards to his seat during his hearing on possible extortion charges against him at Washtenaw district court in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. His ex-wife Nicole Beverly testified to the domestic violence charges and threatening phone calls that he made from prison. (Photo: Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press)
Brought by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the new charges stem from death threats Kevin Beverly allegedly made against his ex-wife in an effort to control her testimony in a child support hearing, to retaliate from a victim-impact statement she delivered at a sentencing proceeding and for reporting his criminal activity to authorities.
If convicted on these felony charges, Kevin Beverly could be sentenced to from 10 years to life in prison.
When or whether he is released, Nicole Beverly said she'll have to leave Michigan and move to a state with laws that will offer her some protection. Michigan is one of 14 states nationally without an address confidentiality law.
"I do not feel safe staying in our state," she said. "He would be able to find me very easily. So I'm very hopeful that a new program in our state would allow victims to stay, and maybe victims from other states to seek refuge here."
The caucus leaders said that they are working on a bipartisan effort to pass a separate address confidentiality law later this term.
Beverly said she would also like to see measures that require education for young people about the warning signs of abusive relationships and tougher sentencing guidelines for perpetrators of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.
"Sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty are much harsher," than they are for perpetrators of domestic violence and stalking, she said. "I feel strongly that needs to be addressed."
State Rep. Kristy Pagan, D-Canton, said it's vital for residents to make their opinions about this legislation known to their state senators and representatives.
"We need grassroots support and for people to call their legislators and let them know they support our bill package," Pagan said. "The more pressure we can put on them, the more likely it is to pass."
HOW TO BE HEARD
- If you have opinions on this legislation, contact your representatives in the state House of Representatives and state Senate and let them know your views.
- To find contact information for your state representative, go to https://www.house.mi.gov/CARES/frmRepList.aspx
- To find contact information for your state senator, go to: http://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysbyaddress.html
© 2017 Detroit Free Press