Assembly Panel Advances Singleton, Vainieri Huttle & DeAngelo Bill Allowing Domestic Violence Victims to Escape Cell Phone Contracts with their Offender

(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Wayne DeAngelo to help domestic violence victims escape their abuser by allowing them to opt out of a joint cell phone contract.

 “We all know that cell phone contracts are often iron-clad agreements with hefty penalties for breaking them,” said Singleton (D-Burlington).  “For anyone in a situation where their security is threatened, their cell phone may be their lifeline to escape but being tethered to their abuser can be an imprisonment.  Domestic violence victims should have the freedom to take over their account without penalty.  It’s the morally conscious thing to do.”

The bill (A-4851) would permit a court to issue an order directing a wireless telephone service provider to transfer the billing responsibility for and rights to a wireless telephone number to the victim, if the victim is not the account holder, in addition to any other relief granted pursuant to the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991” or to any protective order issued upon a stalking conviction.    

“For many victims of domestic violence, a cell phone is a vital link to community resources, life-saving services, and the support networks they need to leave their batterer and abusive environment,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).  “Allowing a victim of domestic violence to retain the use of an existing wireless phone number and access to the contacts and other information that it might contain is important for both the safety and emotional support of the victim.”

The court order would be required to list the name and the billing telephone number of the account holder, the name and contact information of the person to whom the telephone number will be transferred, and each telephone number to be transferred to that person.  The court would also be required to ensure that the contact information of the victim is not provided to the account holder in any court proceedings. 

When the wireless service provider cannot operationally or technically effectuate the order, the wireless service provider would be required to notify the victim within 72 hours of receipt of the order.

“When a domestic violence victim’s very safety depends on their ability to pick up and move, something like a cell phone contract should not stand in their way,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex).  “An allowance for special circumstances like this is a necessity and can be a life-saver.”

Upon transfer of billing responsibility and rights to a wireless telephone number to the victim, the victim would assume all financial responsibility for the transferred wireless telephone number, monthly service costs, and costs for any mobile device associated with the wireless telephone number.  The wireless service provider would not be precluded from applying any routine and customary requirements for account establishment to the victim as part of the transfer of billing responsibility.

The bill also specifies that no wireless telephone service provider, its officers, employees, or agents, would be liable for damages for actions taken in accordance with the terms of a court order issued pursuant to the bill.

The measure was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.