Bill to protect victims of violence, stalking heads to state House - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Bill to protect victims of violence, stalking heads to state House

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Posted: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 6:39 pm | Updated: 7:10 pm, Tue Feb 8, 2011.

The state could soon start helping those trying to hide from their stalkers.

Legislation given unanimous approval by the House Government Committee on Tuesday would let the Secretary of State's Office create fictitious addresses for people who hope to disappear. That new address would appear on everything from driver licenses to voter registration records.

And state officials, who would have the real address, would actually forward their mail.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said HB 2302 is designed to help more than people who are victims of domestic violence or stalkers who already have obtained court orders of protection. Instead, he said, it extends to anyone who is actually concerned about physical safety.

"They are vulnerable to their stalkers, whoever these folks are, who are able to get their address,'' Mesnard said.

Ana Jabkowski, victim advocate coordinator for the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said right now the only way to protect an address is to get a post office box.

"That is not by any means foolproof,'' she said.

"Abusers can just kind of hang out at P.O. boxes,'' Jabkowski continued. "It creates a huge burden on victims who have to constantly change P.O. boxes, change jobs, move homes."

She said some even resort to changing their identities and social security numbers.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Drake said the plan won't help everyone.

"If you stay in your home, I can't help you,'' he said, as their assailants or stalkers already know where they are. "This is for people on the run, or about to be.''

The real key, Drake said, is that the mail would go to a dummy address within his office. There, staffers would bundle up the items and forward them.

He figured that, based on the experience in Colorado where there is a similar program, the costs would be minimal. And the legislation imposes a new $50 penalty on anyone convicted of stalking or domestic violence which is designed to cover any expense.

One drawback would be that those in the program would get only first class, registered and certified mail.

"You won't get your 'Cat Fancy' magazine,'' Drake said.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett said he does not expect a lot of people to sign up. He said there are only about 1,100 individuals in about 500 households in the Colorado program which has been operating for about 2 1/2 years.

The bill now goes to the full House.

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