Getting unemployment compensation could save domestic violence victims; legislation could make that happen

Miami Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph puts her arm aroundCarolyn Siegelman, who is championing Joseph’s bill that would provide unemployment benefits to domestic abuse victims forced to leave their job.

Carolyn Siegelman says the violent abuse she endured from her ex-husband was so severe that there were nights that she went to sleep not knowing if she would wake up alive.

She says she wrote a letter to let people know about the violence, to be opened in the event that she were murdered.

Siegelman ultimately did leave her husband back in 2003, but she says that if she could have quit her job and collected unemployment, she would have been able to get out of her tortured relationship much earlier. That’s why she is championing a bill that has passed the Florida House and appears likely to pass in the Senate. It would  allow victims of domestic violence to qualify for unemployment compensation benefits, should they be forced to leave their job due to a domestic violence situation. Sometimes, leaving a job is a matter of life and death.

“The perpetrators still know where they work,” said state Rep. Dotie Joseph, a Miami Democrat who is sponsoring the bill in the House. “And if they leave their job, how are they going to provide for themselves and their family? If the only thing stopping you from exiting a life-threatening situation is the income that you would lose from your job, then this bill helps address that financial concern.”

If passed, Florida will join 41 other states which have a similar laws..

State Representative Geraldine Thompson, a Democrat from Orange County, told a chilling tale about a former constituent whose fate might have been different if the proposed law had been in place in 2010. That’s when a Publix grocery store cashier was fatally shot by her estranged husband waiting in the checkout line of the store she worked at. She died the next morning.

“This legislation will not only provide individuals an income when they have to remove themselves from an abusive relationship, but it will save lives,” said Thompson. “People are reluctant to release the power that comes through these relationships, and they will do anything to maintain that control.”

The bill has received strong bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature.

State Representative Chris Sprowls is a Republican who previously served seven years as a prosecutor in Pinellas County. He says he always believed that domestic abusers were the “worst kind of criminal.”

“They’re manipulative,” he said. “They use many tools at their disposal to hurt their victims. To terrorize their victims. To make sure that they live their life in fear so that they can gain power over that victim.”

The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity did not have any relevant statistics to provide a Senate analysis of the legislation earlier this year, but said the agency had looked at Texas, which found that approximately 200 people were affected annually when they passed a similar bill.

The Senate analysis then said if Florida experienced a similar number of claims for the full 12 weeks, the fiscal impact of the bill could be a $660,000 increase in benefits paid annually. The bill would also cost the Department of Economic Opportunity $47,000 to implement, which the department said it could absorb in its budget.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

1 COMMENT

  1. I am curious of the costs to the employers. As I recall their monthly payments vary by the amount of claims filed. It seems there ought to be more details / data available. Thank you for this report.

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