GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 23, 2013

Bill eyes work leave for domestic victims

From Wire and Staff Reports
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — BOSTON — When the state Senate reconvenes Thursday, lawmakers will be asked to consider legislation guaranteeing temporary leave from work to victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.

A similar bill unanimously cleared the Senate in January 2012, then died without a vote in the House after it never emerged from the House Ways and Means Committee.

The new bill, filed by Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, and state Rep. Thomas Sannicandro, D-Ashland, would require employers to allow employees to take up to 15 days of leave from work a year — with or without pay — if the employee or a family member of the employee has been victimized by abusive behavior, must seek medical attention, counseling, legal services or to secure new housing and provided that the employee is not the perpetrator of the abuse.

The proposed new law would apply to employers with 50 or more workers.

The Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development recommended the bill on Oct. 15, and the Senate Ways and Means Committee has an amendment pending substituting a new version for the bill. Senators have until Wednesday at 3 p.m. to file amendments with the clerk.

The Ways and Means amendment would require employees taking leave to provide specific types of proof for their absence, including court orders, police reports or a sworn statement.

The redraft would also require those convicted of domestic assault and battery to complete a certified batterer’s intervention program, and would create a new crime of strangulation carrying a penalty of up for five years in state prison, 2 ½ years in a house of correction, a fine of up to $5,000 or a combination of fines and imprisonment. Penalties would increase for subsequent strangulation offenses.

The bill comes amid a stepped-up push in the fight against domestic violence, both on a statewide level and in individual cities and towns.

In Gloucester, for example, the city’s Police Department, the Essex District Attorney’s office and a coalition of service agencies — the Salem-based HAWC (Healing Abuse, Working for Change) and the YWCA North Shore Rape Crisis Center — kicked off a “Safe Sites” program two weeks ago, working with businesses and institutions around the city.

Under that program, local businesses are placing “safe site” signs in their windows, offering safe protection and access to help lines and other information to those who are being threatened or facing abuse.

That program is not meant only for victims or potential victims of domestic violence, organizer Sunny Robinson said last week, but the kickoff came during the city’s annual recognition of domestic violence, and domestic threats and abuse are a prime focus of the project. And in her annual proclamation, Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the Gloucester office of HAWC was contacted 2,911 times through its hotline over the past two years.

Penalties for repeat violation of a restraining order would also be increased under the new Senate bill, with new guidelines calling for sentences of up to five years in state prison, or up to 2½ years in a house of correction.

The attorney general would also be authorized to enforce the new domestic violence work leave provisions.