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Senate propels bill aiding domestic violence victims

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A House bill aimed at aiding victims of domestic violence by waiving fees for birth certificates made headway in the Senate Thursday.

HB 1135, championed by Republican Rep. Chris Dinkins, would waive the one-time $15 fee for domestic violence victims who need a new copy of his or her birth certificate.

State Rep. Chris Dinkins

Often, victims could need to flee a dangerous situation too quickly to grab important documentation, or an abuser could withhold these items, Dinkins said. And birth certificates are needed to obtain a driver’s license, set up a bank account, or enroll in school.

“I think it’s an important step that we help these people get out of abusive situations so they can move on with their lives,” Dinkins told The Missouri Times in an interview. “These people are often very vulnerable because of the lifestyle they’ve been living, and it’s hard for them to break away. We just want to do everything we can to help them be able to get back on their feet and get a job and start their lives over again.”

Additionally, the bill includes a provision that would waive the fee for homeless or unaccompanied minors. Sometimes, these younger people have escaped abusive environments and could desperately need access to a birth certificate as well, Dinkins noted.

She said she was recently told of a woman who visited a domestic violence shelter with her five children just before Christmas. The center not only provided a sanctuary for the family, but also helped collect the $15 per child needed in order to get birth certificates and enroll them in school.

“Fifteen dollars might not seem like a lot of money, but when you’re put in that kind of situation, you usually don’t have anything, and for the people that are helping you, they are continuously helping people, and it does get burdensome trying to come up with all of that,” Dinkins said.

Despite a stalemate between the two chambers over other issues this week, Dinkins’ bill unanimously passed out of the Senate Seniors, Families and Children Committee with no changes Thursday.

“The idea that they can access their birth certificates for a multitude of reasons they might need them at no cost really takes away a hurdle so I think it’s a really important piece of legislation,” Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp, a committee member, told The Missouri Times Thursday evening.

“We just want to do everything we can to help them be able to get back on their feet and get a job and start their lives over again.”

Aside from pushing for the bill to pass this session, Schupp said she is also working with state officials to ensure new, federal grant money is being used to help domestic violence survivors with costs such as these. With both the bill and the grant money, “everything will fall into place,” she contended.

“We’re going to try to make sure with the grant process that the federal dollars that are available to use to cover the costs of these birth certificates for these people in need whose lives can be changed by somebody helping them with a $15 cost,” Schupp said.

Dinkins rejected the fiscal note attached to her legislation from the Department of Health and Senior Services, calling it “way out of line than where it should be.”

She contended many domestic violence survivors would reach out to local health departments as opposed to the state department in Jefferson City because of convenience. And she also scoffed at the department’s assertion it would need to hire as many as eight new full-time employees, with a $28,527 salary, to process the additional birth certificates should the law go into effect.

“The birth certificates are already being supplied, but they’re having to come up with the money. So it’s not like you’re going to be making more birth certificates than what you already are,” Dinkins said. “That doesn’t make sense that you’re going to need two to eight more full-time employees. If that’s really the case, you all need to do some reevaluation of what’s really going on in that department.”

Dinkins bill passed out of the House last week in a 151-3 vote.