By Sarah Bugay, WLP Intern
On Tuesday, January 14 2014, HB 1796, legislation that seeks to prohibit local nuisance ordinances from penalizing tenants for calling the police to respond to domestic violence and other emergencies, passed unanimously in the Pennsylvania House. HB 1796, a bill sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery), is part of the first phase of legislation of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a comprehensive, proactive initiative to help Pennsylvania’s women by focusing on a wide range of legal and policy barriers to women’s health and equality. (Also see WLP-WomenVote PA press release about the Agenda.)
In August 2013, the New York Times brought national attention to a case which exposed a troubling consequence of local nuisance ordinances in its article, Victims’ Dilemma-911 Calls Can Bring Eviction. Domestic violence victim, Lakisha Briggs, had to choose between protecting herself and her three year old daughter from her violent ex-boyfriend, or eviction by her landlord for contacting the Norristown, PA, police too many times. In April 2013, the ACLU brought a suit against the Borough of Norristown challenging the constitutionality of such a nuisance ordinance. Thus, while these municipal nuisance ordinances may be intended to protect neighborhoods from disruptive neighbors, they fail to carve out protections for victims of domestic violence and crime who became faced with an untenable choice between having a home and living with violence. HB 1796 prevents local nuisance ordinances from forcing domestic violence victims to make that choice.
Following its unanimous passage in the House, HB 1796 will now move onto the Senate for consideration. WLP applauds the members of the PA House who clearly recognized the importance of this bill and protecting victims of domestic violence.