Pa. bill would allow early cell phone termination for domestic violence victims

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Many domestic abuse victims share cell phone contracts with their abusers. State Representative Kevin Schreiber is sponsoring a bill in hopes of preventing domestic violence abusers from using one against their victims.

“Seventy-five percent of all domestic violence related murders happen when the victim is attempting to leave,” said Rick Azzaro, chief services officer at the YWCA ACCESS-York & Victim’s Assistance Center.

That’s something Schreiber would like to change. His proposal, House Bill 1108, would allow cell phone contract terminations for domestic violence victims if they are on a shared plan with their abuser.

“A lot of it is mental. It’s not always physical. It’s being able to call that person, harass that person, use their phone to look though text messages, see who they’re communicating with. Individuals have tracked them down using their GPS features,” Schreiber (D-York) said.

The victim would have to show proof of domestic violence, either through a police report, protection from abuse order, or affidavit from a social worker. The bill requires cell phone companies to waive early termination fees and remove the victim from the plan within three days.

Victims could also request a new cell phone number and must receive it within 24 hours. The bill would turn off GPS tracking features on the victim’s phone.

“This year we have so far 15 domestic violence related fatalities. That’s an all-time high for York, and it’s an all-time high right now for Pennsylvania. We’re surpassing both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” Azzaro said.

The bill is in committee. Schreiber is trying to get a hearing on it. Lawmakers in New York are currently debating a similar bill. Schreiber said no states have this law in place.

“All this does is further to help empower and give independence to a victim of domestic violence,” Schreiber said. “That’s one of the best things we can give an individual and allow them to break free from that abuser and get out and be independent, and this is just one more tool in the tool belt.”

ABC 27 contacted cell phone providers, who said they were supportive of the bill.

T-Mobile Media Relations issued the following statement:

“T-Mobile is aware of this legislation and we support policies that would protect victims of all crimes including domestic violence. We already handle these situations individually with our customers, and we welcome the opportunity to work with lawmakers and others on this important issue.”

Verizon sent ABC 27 the following statement:

“Verizon is actually very involved in the issue of domestic violence awareness and prevention. We’ve been a longtime supporter of domestic violence organizations throughout Pennsylvania and across the country, providing them with grants and other funding, as well as wireless phones through our HopeLine program. Domestic violence survivors can use those phones to call for help in an emergency and also to do things like find housing and employment, arrange for child care, etc.

On the legislative front, we’re continually working with policy makers and the PCADV to ensure the safety and privacy of our customers who are survivors of domestic violence.

As for letting survivors out of their contract, we already do and always have managed these sensitive situations on a case-by-case basis. The survivor can call us, explain their situation, and we’ll work with them to do so.”

You can read the bill by clicking here.

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