(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joseph Lagana, Craig Coughlin, Pamela Lampitt, Joe Cryan and Grace Spencer to bolster protections of domestic violence victims in New Jersey cleared its first legislative hurdle on Thursday.
The first bill (A-3655), sponsored by Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Joseph Lagana, intends to enhance the protections offered under the “New Jersey Safe Housing Act” by prohibiting a landlord from terminating a tenancy, failing to renew a tenancy, or refusing to enter into a rental agreement due to a tenant or prospective tenant’s status as a domestic violence victim.
Under the act a tenant may terminate a lease prior to its expiration if the tenant provides appropriate documentation and written notice that the tenant or his/her child faces an imminent threat of serious physical harm from another person if they remain on the premises.
The bill would amend the act to prohibit a landlord from terminating a tenancy, failing to renew a tenancy, or refusing to enter into a rental agreement based on the tenant’s, applicant’s or household member’s status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, or based on the tenant or applicant having terminated a rental agreement pursuant to the Act.
“Victims of domestic violence must deal with their life being thrown into upheaval,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “The last thing they need is to have their home uprooted through no fault of their own.”
“With this bill, domestic violence victims will receive added protections under the New Jersey Safe Housing Act,” said Lagana (D-Essex). “Hopefully this measure will provide some stability for victims in order to help them overcome the otherwise tumultuous circumstances in their life.”
Another bill (A-3813), sponsored by Craig Coughlin and Pam Lampitt, adds cyber-harassment to the domestic violence statutes. The bill would allow temporary and permanent restraining order under the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991,” on grounds that the person seeking the order is a victim of cyber-harassment. Current law provides for 14 predicate offenses, if inflicted by an adult or emancipated minor upon a person protected under the act, which constitute domestic violence. Cyber-harassment will become the 15th predicate offense under the law.
“The internet is being used as another way for domestic violence predators to stalk and harass their victims,” Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “It’s time to put cyber-stalking and harassment on the books to continue to protect domestic violence victims under the law.”
“Predators will go to any length to abuse or make their victim feel unsafe,” Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “Using email, Facebook, or any other internet site as an access point has become a tool for perpetrators. Adding this method to the list is necessary and will strengthen protection for domestic violence victims.”
The last measure (A-3846) provides that a person commits a crime of the third degree if, intending to cause annoyance or injury or intending to commit a crime, the person enters the dwelling of a victim of domestic violence protected by a domestic violence restraining order against the actor.
“Everyone should feel safe in their homes, especially those who have been victimized by domestic violence,” Cryan (D-Union). “This legislation gives the courts the tools necessary to protect domestic violence victims who continue to feel threatened by their abuser.”
“Domestic violence victims can live in constant fear of their lives,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “We can strengthen the law to protect victims and help ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their threatening and harmful behavior.”
The bill creates the presumption that the actor did intend to cause annoyance or injury or to commit a crime if a domestic violence restraining order is in place, or if the actor has been convicted of or charged with a crime that no presumption of non-incarceration shall apply to persons convicted o such crime.
The legislation is sponsored by Joe Cryan, Joseph Lagana, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Grace Spencer.
The measures were released by the Assembly Women and Children Committee.