Human Services Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-5246

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING DISTRIBUTION OF THE MARRIAGE LICENSE SURCHARGE AND CHANGES TO THE LANDLORD AND TENANT STATUTES TO BENEFIT VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

Vote Date:

3/18/2010

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/15/2010

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Human Services Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

This bill is one of three that has been drafted from the recommendations of the Speaker's Task Force on Domestic Violence.

The bill distributes the marriage license domestic violence surcharge funds directly to shelter programs in a more timely manner -- annually no later than October 15th. In the past domestic abuse shelter and rape crisis center programs have not been fully funded. According to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV), the demand for domestic violence related services has increased by 25% over the past two years. This bill aims to close the gap in that funding to ensure that our constituents receive the services they need when they need them the most.

The bill also provides assistance to relocate housing for victims of domestic violence. In an emergency, victims of domestic violence may need to suddenly leave their residence in order to ensure their own safety. This bill allows them to leave by permitting them to defer a rent payment or incur a lower penalty if they need to relocate.

Substitute language changes the title, removes sections 4 and 7 of the bill, changes the definition of family violence to be consistent with section 46b-38a of the general statutes, clarifies the documentation and time needed to terminate a rental agreement in sections 2 and 3, includes the grace periods described in section 47a-15a of the general statutes in reference to qualifying for terminating the rental agreement and deferral of rent payment, holds the tenant responsible for rent arrearage incurred prior to terminating the rental agreement, specifies the amount of funding given to the Department of Social Services for 24-hour coverage in domestic violence shelters, inserts a provision mandating that the Department of Public Health develop and issue public services announcements, community education and outreach programs to prevent and increase awareness of teen dating violence and family violence, specifies that a landlord may commence summary process action for a reason other than deferral of a rent payment or termination of a rental agreement under the terms of the sections 2 and 3 of this bill, adds section 47a-1 of the general statutes, which are definitions used in the landlord tenant statutes, and applies said definitions to the bill.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Christopher G. Donovan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, supports this bill.

“The economic downturn has resulted in increased demand for domestic violence programming. Connecticut is served by 18 regional programs that provide community education, victim advocacy, support services and temporary emergency shelter. These programs receive their funding from public and private grants, including a portion of the $290 surcharge assessed on marriage licenses. These fees are distributed to programs by the Department of Social Services. IN fiscal year 2009, the domestic violence account exceeded $1 million, but the funds were not distributed. HB 5246 requires DSS to transfer these funds to programs on an annual basis.”

“This bill also provides resources for 24/7 staffing at domestic violence shelters to meet the needs of our communities. Several shelters have already secured stimulus funds to temporarily provide these services in light of caseload increases. Finally, the bill assists victims in maintaining safe housing by permitting them to defer a rent payment or incur a lower penalty if they need to relocate to ensure their security. I would also encourage the Human Services Committee to consider assigning a provision to the bill concerning the use of public service announcements to raise awareness of teen dating and domestic violence.”

Susan Bysiewicz, Secretary of the State, testified in favor of this bill: “The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV) reports that according to one of its domestic violence programs, requests for resource services, counseling, workshops, and self-esteem programs went up nearly 25 percent—from 1,038 in 2007-2008 to 1,259 last in 2008-2009… This trend may only worsen as family stress related to loss of jobs, mounting bills, and lack of job opportunities continues to rise in the coming months.” She also testified: “As you know, in the past these domestic abuse shelter and rape crisis center programs have not received these funds as expected, creating a gap in revenue that they cannot afford to have. HB 5246 remedies this problem, and in so doing ensures that domestic violence and rape crisis programs will receive the money they are entitled to promptly and when most needed.”

Claudette Beaulieu, Deputy Commissioner for Programs, Department of Social Services (DSS), testified: “We interpret the language distribute such funds to require the department to issue all funds available in the MLS (Marriage License Surcharge) account annually. However, pursuant to an agreement negotiated between the department and CCADV [Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence] in July 2009, the parties agreed that a 20% reserve would be maintained: 10% for quality/system improvement and 10% for emergency needs. Furthermore, this account has been used in the past to advance payments to DV [Domestic Violence] shelters in case there was a delay in federal funding. If the fund is entirely depleted in October of each year there will be nothing available to assist shelters with cash flow problems.

We have attached the letter [7/29/09 letter to Erika Tindill, Esq., CCADV] that outlines the agreement between CCADV and the department. We feel that this agreement satisfies the needs and concerns of both parties. We recommend that these parameters be taken into consideration as the bill moves forward.”

Robert J. Brothers, Jr., Executive Director, Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), testified:

“The Commission supports sections 2 through 8 of this bill and has no position on section 1.

The Commission recommends that in sections 2,3,4 and 5 "family violence" means an incident resulting in physical harm, bodily injury or assault, or an act of threatened violence that constitutes fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault between family or household members. Verbal abuse or argument shall not constitute family violence unless there is present danger and the likelihood that physical violence will occur " be deleted and that "family violence" has the same meaning as in section 46b-38a(1) be substituted in lieu thereof.

We believe the title should reflect "family violence" instead of "domestic violence”.

CHRO recommends that Sec. 46a-64c CGS be amended to add “victims of family violence” as a class basis to Connecticut's housing discrimination statutes.”

Michelle Cruz, Esq., State Victim Advocate, Office of Victim Advocate, testified in support of this bill, along with SB 448, HB 5496, and HB 5497.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Erika Tindill, Executive Director, Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), testified “… to date, not all of CCADV member programs have received their portion of the funds some 11 months after the discovery that DSS had failed to distribute a penny of these funds in the previous two fiscal years. Even once each member receives its portion, the Department still retains a minimum of $200,000 (20% of the total retained) intended for shelter services. This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated by those who have the power to do something about it.” This bill will, “force DSS to do what the legislature intended be done with the marriage license surcharge funds – pass the money directly to shelter programs providing services to victims in a timely manner; and is particularly helpful to the victim who must relocate quickly and safely, allowing them to keep necessary funds to accomplish this.”

Raphael L. Podolsky, Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut, Inc., testified in favor of this bill, “however, it is written with preconditions so narrow that it will be hard for any domestic violence victim to use its provisions. Without opening the bill unnecessarily broadly, we suggest the following changes to make the bill more workable for domestic violence victims:

● The bill makes exercise of its rights dependent upon the requirement that the “rent has been paid in accordance with the terms of the rental agreement during the twelve-month period…prior to the landlord's receipt of the tenant's notice…” (l. 59-63 and l. 90-95). This means no late payments or non-payments. This restriction undercuts the purpose of the bill, since the domestic violence crisis that would justify its use is unrelated to the victim's past rent-payment history. Nothing in the bill relieves the victim from liability for rent arrearages or late fees. Moreover, late rent payments and rent arrearages may be the fault of the abuser and not of the victim. That requirement should be deleted.

● This bill requires that a request for a one-month rent deferral must be made “not later than five calendar days before the due date of the rent payment for which the tenant seeks deferral (l. 75-77). Occupants cannot be expected to predict a financial crisis resulting from domestic violence in advance. The bill should give the victim of deferring the last month's rent (if not yet paid), rather than the next month's rent only.

Shannon R. Lane, MSW, PhD, Assistant Professor, Adelphi University School of Social Work stated that her position is based on her research as a project coordinator for the National Domestic Violence Shelter Study, and is not the official position of Adelphi University. She testified, “In our study of domestic violence survivors, the most common concern was not surprisingly, safety. However, a close second was a need for housing, cited by 83% of survivors who came to shelters. Many were concerned that leaving their abuser would leave them with choices such as living in a car, staying in a homeless shelter, moving from bed to bed with friends or families, or living on the streets. For some survivors, one-half month's rent or one-half of their security deposit will be the difference between the security deposit of a new, safer place to live or feeling forced financially to stay in an unsafe situation.”

Cathy Zeiner, Executive Director of the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut, Inc. provides domestic violence services to approximately 6,000 victims per year in New London County. She testified that due to lack of funding, on October 1, 2008, they had to cut back and staff their shelter only until 5:00 pm on weekdays. On October 1, 2009 they were awarded stimulus funds to return staff to 24/7, but that will last for only 2 years, and after that, they may be forced to put their clients at risk again. “One important way that the state can move us closer to the goal of 24/7 staffing, is by ensure that money collected through the marriage license surcharge is released to the domestic violence programs promptly, completely, and with limited strings attached.”

Also testifying in support of this bill were:

● Susan DeLeon, Executive Director of the Umbrella, Birmingham Group health Services, Inc.

● Sandra Koorejian, Executive Director of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven

● Alvin A. Notice, Gardner, Massachusetts

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Ann Emerson, President, The Connecticut Apartment Association (CTAA), testified they sympathize with victims of domestic violence, but has the following concerns which put an economic hardship on the property owner who has budgeted to receive twelve months rent:

● This bill unfairly singles out and sets requirements for landlords and renters.

● Documentation of proof of domestic violence is loosely defined; proof should be restricted to legal documents such as police reports and restraining or protective orders in an effort to ensure that tenants are not using this as an excuse to terminate a lease or to defer rent for a month.

● Allows for lease termination with five (5) days written notice to the property owner, and the landlord shall not receive more than of one month's rent or retain more than of the security deposit, whichever is less. The owner would need to clean, repair, and list the property for rent, a process which could take a few months. CTAA suggests that the property owner be given 30 days written notice and that return of security deposit be based solely on the condition of the dwelling unit.

● The property owner would be required to allow the tenant to take up to six months to pay the one-time deferral of one-month's rent.

Paul Rosow, President, Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners (CCOPO), testified “HB 5246 violates fundamental Constitutional rights, including the right to own property and not to have it taken for a public purpose without fair compensation. When New London unfairly condemned the property of various citizens, this Legislature was justifiably outraged. Does the fact that this bill only takes a little of the value of a landlord's property for a worthwhile public purpose make it less outrageous? Our constitutions and courts have long been reluctant to pass ex post facto laws that negate valid contracts. This bill retroactively changes the terms of valid leases. CCPO cannot in any way object to the intent of HB 5246; the bill is so fundamentally flawed that it should not be favorably reported. The contemplated assistance to the victims of domestic violence should come from the General Fund and not from a small group that has no responsibility for the occurrence of domestic violence.”

Reported by: Barbara DeMaio and Brie Johnston

Date: 3/25/10