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Memorandum of Support

Empire Justice Memo of Support: Provide an “Escape Clause” for Victims of Domestic Violence when they Share a Bundled or Long Term Phone Service with Abuser


S.5033-a (Parker)/A.8018-a (Rozic)


This bill is one of a growing number of pieces of legislation that addresses and responds to both the practical and safety needs of victims of domestic violence in a telecommunications context.  In 2010, the Legislature amended  Public Service Law § 91 and General Business Law §399-yy to provide victims of domestic violence with permanent orders of protection access to an unlisted local or cable telephone number, or an alternative or modified directory listing at no charge.  This change was necessary to enhance and support victim safety as abusers would exploit access to these numbers and directory listings as a tool to harass and stalk their victims. 
 
As the telecommunications industry has evolved over the years, products and services have changed.  Many families purchase multi-year or “bundled” contracts that consolidate internet access, phone service and cable television.  These multi-year or bundled plans are often the simplest and most economical for families of all types and income levels.  However, when families are split apart due to intimate partner violence, these long-term and bundled contracts continue to survive the relationship and bind the parties even after courts have intervened to provide protection from abuse.  Despite the domestic violence, terminating such long-term, multi-year contracts for home based products and services, especially where a victim has to flee her or his home, can prove difficult given contractual obligations and other built in cancellation or change fees.
 
This legislation recognizes the practical realities of this problem and, in response, would allow victims of domestic violence who have sought and received a permanent order of protection, and are under contract, including but not limited to a multi-year or bundle contract offered by a local exchange telephone corporation or cable television company providing telephone services, to break such contract without imposition of any contractual penalty.  We expect that this will eliminate any early termination fees, charges for equipment non-return, or any other charges that may be incurred pursuant to the contract.  As with the 2010 protections, this bill also limits this relief to those victims with permanent orders of protection that are issued by a court of competent jurisdiction.   

Orders of protection often can be used to provide an “escape clause” of sorts for domestic violence victims.  This bill will provide an explicit “escape clause” in these long-term and "bundle" contracts for victims who have been granted a court order of protection. 

Empire Justice Center supports S.5033-a (Parker)/A.8018-a (Rozic) and urges its passage in both houses. 

This memo was prepared by:


Amy Schwartz-Wallace

Empire Justice Center
Telesca Center for Justice
One West Main Street, Suite 200
Rochester, NY  14614 


(585) 454-4060
(585) 454-2518
aschwartz@empirejustice.org

06/16/14