News Releases

Murray Introduces "SAFE Act" to Help Domestic Violence Victims

Sep 29 2005

Bill Provides Economic Protections to Help Victims Escape Abusive Relationships

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) introduced legislation to knock down the economic barriers that often trap victims in violent relationships. The bill, the Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act, is S.1796.



Highlights of the bill include:

  • The SAFE Act will allow victims to take time off from work without penalty in order to make court appearances, seek legal assistance, and get help with safety planning. For too many victims, access to these essential services can mean the difference between life and death.


  • The SAFE Act allows victims in every state access to unemployment benefits if they are fired or forced to leave their job because of abuse.


  • The SAFE Act will strengthen the Family Violence Option in TANF, in order to protect some of the most economically vulnerable victims. The SAFE Act prohibits discrimination in employment and insurance based on domestic or sexual violence, to ensure that victims are never punished for their abusers’ crimes.


More information on Murray's Work to Fight Domestic Violence



Senator Murray's statement from the Congressional Record – and a bill summary – follow.



Statement from the Congressional Record



Mr. President, along with my colleagues, Senators Leahy, Dayton, Dodd and Corzine, I am introducing legislation that, if adopted, will protect and even save the lives of victims of domestic or sexual violence and their families. This bill, the Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act, addresses the impact of domestic and sexual violence that extends far beyond the moment the abuse occurs.

Mr. President, I am introducing this legislation today as a tribute to Paul and Sheila Wellstone, who were such champions for victims of domestic violence. Senator Wellstone and I first introduced this legislation together in 1998. Paul's desk was just behind me here on the Senate floor. I can still see him behind me waving his arms and making the case for people who have no voice.

Not long ago, domestic violence was considered a family problem, and many victims had nowhere to turn for help. Today, thanks to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) we have made great progress in fighting these violent crimes. I worked to help pass this landmark legislation in 1994 and I am proud to be a part of reauthorizing it this year. But although VAWA has been a great success in coordinating victims’ advocates, social service providers and law enforcement professionals to meet immediate challenges, there is still work to be done.



As someone who has spent my entire public life working with victims and experts to fight domestic violence, I am offering this bill based on what these courageous individuals have told me they need. Financial insecurity is a major factor in ongoing domestic violence. Too often, victims who are not economically self sufficient are forced to choose between protecting themselves and their children and keeping a roof over their heads. It is critical that we help guarantee the economic security of victims of domestic or sexual violence so that they can provide permanent safety for themselves and their families and so that they are not forced, because of economic dependence, to stay in an abusive relationship.



In order to do this, we must ensure that victims of domestic or sexual violence can seek the help they need without the fear of losing their jobs. Too many victims have been fired for missing work in order to find shelter or get a court restraining order, even after receiving permission from their employers. Today, a woman can use the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a sick or injured spouse, but she cannot use that act to seek protection from her abuser. The SAFE Act will allow victims to take time off from work without penalty in order to make court appearances, seek legal assistance, and get help with safety planning. For too many victims, access to these essential services can mean the difference between life and death.



Unfortunately, some victims of domestic or sexual violence are forced to leave their jobs and relocate to protect themselves and their families. We must ensure the continued financial security of these victims through the use of unemployment benefits. Currently, a woman can receive unemployment benefits if she leaves her job because her husband must relocate. But if that same woman is fleeing her husband’s abuse, in many states she cannot receive the same benefits. Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia provide some type of unemployment assistance to victims of domestic or sexual violence. Our bill will ensure that assistance is available in every state, so that no woman has to make the tragic choice of risking her safety to protect her livelihood.



Moreover, victims must not be made silent by the fear of discrimination in employment and insurance. Punishing victims for circumstances beyond their control is wrong and only helps abusers in their efforts to control their victims. Denying a woman employment because she is a victim of domestic violence robs her of the economic security she needs to escape a dangerous relationship. Making insurance coverage decisions based on a history of abuse only encourages women to lie about their victimization and avoid seeking help until it is too late. The SAFE Act prohibits discrimination in employment and insurance based on domestic or sexual violence, to ensure that victims are never punished for their abusers’ crimes.



Sadly, domestic violence and poverty are inextricably linked, and many victims of domestic or sexual violence are also recipients of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF). Work requirements in this program often punish victims who must take time off to protect themselves and their children. In 1996, Senator Paul Wellstone and I offered an amendment to TANF called the Family Violence Option, which allows states to adjust TANF work requirements for victims of domestic violence. The SAFE act will strengthen the Family Violence Option, in order to protect some of the most economically vulnerable victims.



Despite the great progress that has been made, domestic violence is still a serious problem in our country. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, and over 5.3 million incidents occur every year. Domestic or sexual violence also continues to have severe economic consequences, costing businesses between 3 and 5 billion dollars each year in lost productivity. The SAFE Act will help victims to escape dangerous situations and prevent abuse from occurring. This will not only protect the lives of countless victims, it will allow them to be more productive members of the economy.



I am proud of the guidance we’ve received from advocates in crafting this legislation. I want to thank them for their efforts and their commitment to breaking the cycle of violence. I want to particularly acknowledge the efforts of the advocates in Washington State who have provided invaluable input in drafting this legislation. The support and leadership of our communities will help us take this critical next step in passing SAFE.



For victims of domestic violence, an abusive relationship can seem like a hopeless situation. Through VAWA, we have already provided new hope to millions of these victims. The SAFE Act is the crucial next step in ending the cycle of abuse. I urge my colleagues to support this bill and provide victims and their families with the tools they need for productive, independent – and most importantly, safe – futures.



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Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act




- BILL SUMMARY -




Title I
Entitlement to Emergency Leave for Addressing Domestic or Sexual Violence


Provides victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking the ability to maintain the financial independence necessary to leave abusive situations, achieve safety and cope with the effects of such violence without fear of adverse economic consequences from their employers.



Entitles victims of domestic or sexual violence to take leave of up to 30 days to seek assistance from outside medical, psychological, and/or legal resources without penalty from their employer and prohibits employers from discriminating against the victims. Provides that the employee must provide corroborating evidence to employer that he/she is a victim of domestic or sexual violence, and that all information provided to the employer is confidential.



Title II
Entitlement to Unemployment Compensation for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault or Stalking




Provides victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking unemployment insurance for those who have been separated from their employment as a result of such violence (this includes being fired from the job, or leaving the job due to the abuse).



Provides that to determine eligibility for unemployment compensation, states shall adopt (or have adopted) a list of forms of documentation that may be presented to demonstrate eligibility. Provides that states will accept one form of documentation, except in the case of a witness written statement, in such case, the state may request an additional documentation. Provides that states with more protective laws in place shall not be affected, and states with less protective laws shall conform under this legislation.



Certifies that the state will provide information to victims of domestic or sexual violence to ensure that all eligible participants are aware of their options under the Family Violence Option in TANF, and that all case workers and other agency personnel involved in administering the program are adequately trained.



Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants for domestic or sexual violence training programs: 1) $1 million in FY06 for a grant to a national victims service organization; 2) authorizes #12 million for each of fiscal years 2007 through 2007 for grants to state, tribal, or local agencies for such agencies to contract with eligible entities to provide the state, tribe, or local agency personnel responsible for administering the program with the requisite training.



Title III
Victim’s Employment Sustainability




Prohibits employers from discriminating against actual or perceived victims of domestic or sexual violence in a manner that accommodates the legitimate interests of employers and protects the safety of all persons in the workplace. Pertains to individuals who have planned or are participating in civil or criminal court proceedings relating to the incident or have requested an adjustment to a job or workplace facility such as a transferor implementation of safety precautions.



An employer or agency in violation is liable for damages in terms of salary, wage, or benefit compensation, emotional pain, suffering or mental anguish up to three times the amount of actual damages.



Title IV
Victims of Abuse Insurance Protections




Prohibits the insurer of a victim of domestic or sexual violence from denying, refusing to issue, canceling or adding to premium differential of an insurance policy or health benefit plan. Prohibits insurer from limiting or excluding insurance coverage for losses or denying a claim, except when permitted or required by state law.



Prohibits the insurer or health carrier from terminating health coverage for a subject of abuse because the coverage was originally issued in the name of the abuser and the abuser has divorced, separated from, or lost custody of the subject of abuse, or the abuser’s coverage has terminated voluntarily or involuntarily and the subject of abuse does not qualify for an extension of coverage. The insurer is not prohibited from declining to issue the benefits of life insurance to an applicant who is known to have committed an act of abuse against the proposed insured. Prohibits the use, disclosure, or transfer of information relating to subjects of abuse by any person employed by or contracted with an insurer or health benefit plan.



Title V
National Clearinghouse on Domestic and Sexual Violence in the Workplace Grant




Provides that the Attorney General may aware a grant to a private, non-profit entity or tribal organization that has nationally recognized expertise with the issues and will provide matching funds from federal sources not less that 10 percent of the total amount of the grant awarded. Grantees will include a plan to maximize outreach to employers in developing and implementing appropriate responses to assist employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence. The grant could be used for salaries, travel, equipment, printing, etc.



Title VII
Severability




States that if any provisions of this act, amendment made by the act, or application of such provision is found to be unconstitutional, then the remainder of the provisions, amendments, and application of such provisions and amendments not be affected.