Labor bill could aid victims of domestic violence

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new bill making its way through the Florida legislature would help survivors of domestic violence qualify for unemployment benefits in Florida.

The Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund found more than half of female domestic violence victims have been harassed by their partners at work. Florida averages more than 117,000 reported cases of domestic violence each year. However, Florida is not among the 41 states that offer compensation for survivors.

The bill would add victims of domestic violence to those eligible to receive benefits under current unemployment law. Victims would receive compensation for up to 12 weeks. They would need to prove that they voluntarily left their job as a direct result of domestic violence. Under the bill, victims would also be required to demonstrate that a reasonable effort was made to maintain their employment. 

The legislation, proposed by Democratic lawmakers Rep. Dotie Joseph of Miami and Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville, would have a limited impact on private business owners. Funds to pay for the measure would pool from taxes employers pay per employee.

"It cost practically nothing to fix a problem that will have a huge impact on those that need it," Joseph said to a House Committee. "It is my sincere prayer that no one has to use this law, but if, God forbid, they do, we have a little help for them."

The bill, which has support in the House and Senate, also calls for measures to make workplaces safer. 

Marcia Olivo, executive director of Miami Workers Center, an organization that works closely with survivors of domestic violence and helped lawmakers shape the bill, said victims often stay in abusive relationships for financial reasons.

Compensation is the difference between "life and death" for survivors, she added.

Hubbard House, a resource for people in violent relationships in Duval and Baker counties, describes domestic violence as physical, emotional, sexual and economic abuse. It held its annual awareness walk this past weekend to raise more than $90 thousand for the center and services to help survivors.

"I think one of the first and most courageous steps a survivor takes is when they reach out for help," said Gail Patin, Hubbard House's CEO. "They can call our hotline to do that 24/7. They don’t even need to give their name."

Hubbard House and other resources for domestic violence victims are available throughout Northeast Florida:

Hubbard House (Baker and Duval counties): hubbardhouse.org or 904-354-3114
Family Life Center (Flagler County): familylifecenterflagler.org or 386-437-3505
Micah's Place (Nassau County): micahsplace.org or 904-225-9979
Betty Griffin Center (St. Johns County): bettygriffincenter.org or 904-824-1555
Quigley House (Clay County): quigleyhouse.org or 904-284-0061
Lee Conlee House (Putnam County): leeconleehouse.org or 386-325-3141

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