September 22, 2021

Iowa Secretary of State helps lead Newton round table about victim assistance

Safe at Home would give new identity protections to domestic abuse victims

American lawmakers have made many efforts in recent decades to make things safer for victims of domestic violence.

If the efforts of some supporters of an Iowa State Senate bill lead to the passage of SF 383, victims will have another small set of resources.

Tuesday night’s round table discussion, held at the Jasper County Courthouse, went over the provisions of SF 383, which has been placed on the Senate calendar. It gives added anonymity protections to victims of domestic violence and other crimes.

The bill is similar to HF 585, which passed by a 100-0 vote in the House last week. Reps. Dan Kelley (D-Newton) and Greg Heartsill (R-Columbia) both voted for HF 585.

SF 383 is similar to HF 585, and calls for several provisions that will help keep the identity of victims from being published anywhere. The main provisions of each bill victims a way to receive U.S. mail, register to vote and absentee vote without having addresses or phone numbers published.

Secretary of State Paul Pate and Rep. Dean Fisher (R-Garwin) came to Newton to lead the discussion. Pate has also traveled to similar meetings in other parts of the state, including Adel and Marshalltown.

Pate said a similar program is already active in 33 states.

“I told the folks in rural counties that this program is as much for them as it is for the urban ones,” Pate said. “The urban areas have more options, and housing options are limited in rural places.”

Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty, the county auditor, Dennis Parrott; Jasper County Recorder Denise Allen and the county’s first assistant attorney, Scott Nicholson, were all at the discussion. So were domestic abuse victim advocates Kristy Knapp and Liliana Romero, whose territory encompasses 12 counties, along with Jasper and Poweshiek county crisis outreach advocate Kelly Moore.

The group asked pointed questions of Pate and Fisher regarding which types of victims could enroll and utilize the program, and how it will work on an everyday basis. The program would emulate the ones used in other states, and Pate said he’s talked to government officials in Missouri, Kansas and Minnesota for details.

Once victims have documented their case, with something like a police report or a restraining order, they can have their mail routed to a Des Moines-area post office box. It will take a few extra days to receive mail, but it will help reduce their digital footprint, and prevent having to list their new home address after moving to get away from an abusive situation.

The program will also allow victims to get voter registration without having their information listed anywhere accessible to the public. Pate said all government agencies would be required to comply with all aspects of the program.

“It’s meant to be a temporary program,” Pate said. “It’s meant to give victims time to sort things out, and get back on their feet.”

Pate described the Senate bill as written in broad terms, allowing his office to set up many of the details. He pointed out more than once that it isn’t a million-dollar program; the main costs will be postage, educating the public about it and perhaps processing of paperwork.

Romero asked how undocumented Iowans, who have no photo ID or paperwork of any sort, would enroll in the program.

“I don’t have an answer for that right now,” Pate said. “We’re a lot farther into this than when we started, and we’ve answered a lot of questions. But there are many things we still have to tackle, and that’s one of them. California’s done this for a long time; I’ll look at what they do.”

Halferty and Nicholson both asked questions about gun registration, as abuse victims often arm themselves, but the program would encourage not listing a name or address on forms. All in attendance agreed agencies will have to communicate well to make the program work.

Voter identification didn’t loom as a complicated issue, according to Parrot. Social Security Administration and IRS correspondence were brought up as well, with Pate reminding everyone that many of the details will have to be worked out between federal and state agencies.

Pate pointed out that not all victims will be ideal for the program, and it won’t be practical in all cases. Real estate might be able to be put into an LLC to conceal an address, but some situations, like shared custody, might not work well with a no-contact program such as Safe at Home.

Pate said the program is not meant to be a cure or solution for domestic violence, which has led to 108 convictions in Jasper County over the past five years. However, Safe at Home would at least give victims on type of shield while reorganizing their lives.

“When you pass a bill 100-0, it’s not a Republican or Democrat issue,” he said. “It’s a victim issue.”

The Safe at Home program is described on this page of the Secretary of State's website: http://bit.ly/1FcLGuQ

SF 383 is described on the legislature's site: http://bit.ly/1ybzicc

Contact Jason W. Brooks at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or jbrooks@newtondailynews.com