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Bill would extend unemployment for domestic violence victims

By Jordan Hensley, LRC

Frankfort KY - Domestic violence victims often face many barriers when it comes to escaping their abuser.

Two Kentucky lawmakers shared plans today with the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment that they hope will eliminate one of those barriers.

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, and Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield, are drafting a measure to allow anyone who loses their job or must quit their job due to dating violence or abuse, sexual assault or stalking to qualify for unemployment insurance.

Kulkarni, Heavrin and others filed a similar bill during the 2021 regular legislative session, but the measure did not make it to the House or Senate floor for a vote. Kulkarni said they hope to pre-file the bill again for the 2022 regular session in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

"This something that I've worked on for the past few sessions that was brought to me by constituents," Kulkarni said. "And it's an issue that at the same time it is desperate and urgent, (it is) something that is also clouded with silence and a lot of stigma attached to it."

Katie Showalter, a social work professor at the University of Kentucky and a gender-based violence and employment expert, testified that gender-based violence is a major issue in Kentucky.

"Kentucky is the second highest state in the U.S. for rates of domestic violence with 1 in 3 women and 1 in 8 men experiencing (domestic violence) in their lifetime," Showalter said.

Survivors often experience 15 days of work loss per year, and many victims are financially dependent on their abusive partners, Showalter added. Abusers often use control of finances to further isolate and abuse their partners.

"Income loss is a huge issue for survivors, but it is also tied to the loss of other resources like social relationships and benefits for the survivor," Showalter said. "So it's really like a chain reaction that survivors are experiencing...

"We are seeing lots of unemployment and specifically unemployment insurance would really help victims who are experiencing intimate partner violence, sexual violence or stalking to regain stability."

Kulkarni said 39 other states already extend some form of unemployment insurance benefits to domestic violence survivors.

The current draft of Kulkarni and Heavrin's bill would require survivors to provide documentation in order to qualify for benefits. Currently, that documentation could be police or court records, a sworn statement from the survivor or other documentation from a shelter worker, attorney, member of the clergy or medical professional.

Kulkarni said benefits would be charged against the state's pooled account and would not be a financial burden on employers.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, asked if there would be any sort of counseling requirement. Kulkarni said the current draft of the bill does not have one, but added that some states waive the job search requirement if an applicant is seeking counseling.

Heavrin also responded that she is hesitant to add a counseling requirement since not everyone is ready to seek counseling right away.

"They're not always able to go to counseling because the job might not allow them, so hopefully we can find a middle there that is helpful with the employee and employer," Heavrin said. "But just to be empathetic, I think it is hard to push somebody to do counseling until they're ready."

Heavrin added survivors often have children and other things to consider when seeking help, but she is open to discussing the issue.

Kulkarni said they hope to work with more legislators and stakeholders before finalizing the draft and pre-filing the bill.

This story was posted on 2021-09-23 15:11:07
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