Exemption of domestic violence client information bill causes controversy

The Florida Senate filed a bill Jan 9 providing exemption from public records for information concerning any clients involved in domestic violence advocacy organizations or referral services.

According to Florida Senate records, the bill will require a written consent from the client to disclose of certain information.

The bill will protect domestic violence advocacy organizations and their clients, victims of domestic violence, from those who harmed them.  If the victimizer was able to obtain client information, they could potentially contact their victim and continue their harassment.

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Republican, introduced the bill. It is still up for legislative review and repeal of exemptions.  

This bill could be a blessing and curse, said Tundidor Jesus, a secretary of Garcia.

“Some domestic advocacy programs have a concern with the bill being passed,” Jesus said. “They are saying it can do more harm than good. “  

Leisa Wiseman, communication director of Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said educating organizations about the bill will be challenging.

“The bill is a great idea, but we have to make sure that the advocacy programs and referral services out there have the proper training to withhold this information,” Wiseman said. “Putting this in the wrong hands of someone who has not been properly trained can be bad for FCADV. We want to make sure that if this is offered everyone using it will be trained in technical assistance, because not all advocacy organizations are set up the same.”

Garcia will be meeting with Wiseman later on this month to discuss further issues.

Charlotte Harvard, a representative of the Gadsden County Refugee House, said clients sometimes have trouble keeping their identities a secret.

“This issue is always presented whenever a client is confiding in us,” Harvard said. “We try to ensure to them that their identity is safe but in actuality it’s beyond our control.”

Harvard considers the bill to be a stepping stone for the bigger issues dealing with confidentiality.

“So many cases get brushed under the rug because these victims are scared,” Harvard said. “So instead of pressing charges and receiving help, they do nothing.”

The bill will be discussed at the next legislative session and will take effect on the same date as the similar legislation concerning domestic violence advocacy programs if passed.

To track this bill visit flsenate.com