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Mosquera & Fuentes Bill Package Boosting Protections for Domestic Violence Victims Advanced by Assembly Panel

A package of bills sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gabriela Mosquera and Angel Fuentes that provides increased protections and security for victims of domestic violence was advanced by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

“Domestic violence trauma casts a wide net on both victims and the agencies responsible for combating this violence,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “By making sure that agencies at every level are equipped with the resources to respond effectively and cooperatively, we can hopefully provide victims with swifter assistance to ease the pain and psychological trauma.”

The first bill (A2899), sponsored by Mosquera, directs the Division on Women to audit the effectiveness of state, county and local response to domestic violence by sponsoring, at the county and local level, community safety and accountability audits throughout the state.

Specifically, the audit shall include a systematic analysis of intra-agency and interagency policies and procedures used by, including: law enforcement agencies and the court system when investigating and prosecuting cases of domestic violence-related fatalities and near fatalities, as appropriate; and state and local agencies and organizations when providing services to victims of domestic violence.

The bill contains recommendation #4 from a 2006 report produced by the New Jersey Domestic Violence Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board, which based its findings on a review of domestic violence-related homicide and suicide cases.

The Board found from case reviews that professionals who came in contact with victims failed to demonstrate knowledge about domestic violence that is essential to providing appropriate care, information and referrals to these victims. Moreover, the board found that there was no mechanism in place for these agents to communicate with each other to evaluate the totality of the response provided to the people involved, with the result that no one communicated the danger that existed.

The second bill (A-2919), sponsored by Fuentes and Mosquera, is known as the “New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act” or the “NJ SAFE Act.” The measure would provide 20 days of leave time within one year of an incident of domestic violence or a sexually violent offense of which the employee or the employee’s family or household member was a victim.

“Domestic violence cases can present a huge disruption to a victim’s life,” said Fuentes (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Pursuing legal justice and getting any necessary medical and mental health treatment all require time and energy that cannot always be accomplished when working full-time. By providing additional leave time, hopefully we can give domestic violence victims increased support to overcome a very trying situation.”

“The process of picking up the pieces after a domestic violence incident or sexual assault is extremely taxing on victims,” added Mosquera. “Without the proper time to address the matter both legally and psychologically, victims may never truly heal.”

The leave time is provided so as to allow the employee to seek medical attention for physical or psychological injuries caused by domestic or sexual violence to the employee or the employee’s family or household member; obtain services from a victim services organization for the employee or the employee’s family or household member; obtain psychological or other counseling for the employee or the employee’s family or household member; participate in safety planning, temporarily or permanently relocating, or taking other actions to increase the safety of the employee or the employee’s family or household member from future domestic or sexual violence or ensure economic security; seek legal assistance or remedies to ensure the health and safety of the employee or the employee’s family or household member; or to prepare for or attend a criminal or civil court proceeding relating to an incident of domestic or sexual violence of which the individual, or the family or household member of the individual, was a victim.

An employer may, however, require that an employee exhaust any accrued paid leave provided by the employer, or leave provided pursuant to the “Family Leave Act” before pursuing the leave time permitted under this bill. An employer found in violation of certain provisions of the bill could be liable for a civil penalty of $1,000-2,000 for the first violation and up to $5,000 for each subsequent violation.

Both bills were approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee and now await consideration by the full Assembly.