A three-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joseph Lagana, Gabriela Mosquera, Craig Coughlin, Pamela Lampitt, Troy Singleton, Daniel Benson and L. Grace Spencer to bolster protections for domestic violence victims in New Jersey gained approval by the full Assembly on Thursday.
The first bill (A-3655), sponsored by Vainieri Huttle, Lagana and Mosquera, is designed 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's or prospective tenant's status as a domestic violence victim.
Under the act, a tenant may terminate a lease prior to its expiration if they provide appropriate documentation and written notice that they or their child face 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.
"As we've seen all too often lately, domestic violence is still a very pervasive threat in our society. This bill package takes a broader approach to provide the protections necessary to deal with today's realities," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Victims of domestic violence must deal with their life being thrown into upheaval. The last thing they need is to have their home uprooted through no fault of their own."
"This bill package will provide far greater protections for domestic violence victims in New Jersey," said Lagana (D-Essex). "This measure, in particular, will hopefully provide much-needed stability for domestic violence victims in order to help them overcome the otherwise tumultuous circumstances in their life."
"Finding adequate housing in a timely manner is often crucial in helping domestic violence victims escape their tormentors," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). "We need to ensure that the law is on their side in these circumstances."
The second bill (A-3813), sponsored by Coughlin, Lampitt, Singleton, Benson, Vainieri Huttle and Mosquera, would add cyber-harassment to the list of crimes considered domestic violence under the "Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991."
In doing so, the bill would allow temporary and permanent restraining orders on the grounds that the person seeking the order is a victim of cyber-harassment.
"The internet is being used as another way for domestic violence predators to stalk and harass their victims," said 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," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "Facebook, Twitter, email and other Internet-based services have become tools for perpetrators to inspire fear. Adding this method to the list of domestic violence offenses is necessary to strengthen protections for victims."
"Cyber-harassment, while terrifying in itself, often precedes physical harassment or harm," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "This bill will help provide the protections necessary to hopefully prevent it from escalating to that point."
"When the Domestic Violence Prevention Act was first written, cyber-harassment wasn't even part of our vernacular yet," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "Today it's a frightening reality for far too many people, one that must be treated with the same severity as the many other crimes included in our domestic violence statues."
The last measure (A-3846), sponsored by Lagana, Vainieri Huttle and Spencer, 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.
"Domestic violence victims can live in constant fear for 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."
A crime of the third degree is punishable by three to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. The bill specifies that no presumption of non-incarceration shall apply to anyone convicted of such a crime.
All three bills were approved by a vote of 71-0 and now head to the Senate for consideration.