TOPEKA — Unanimous backing by the 40-member Kansas Senate sent legislation to the House in an effort to reduce homelessness among people who experienced or find themselves in jeopardy of being a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault or stalking.
The bill would prohibit landlords from evicting or denying tenancy to someone who experienced or was in imminent danger of being a victim of these crimes. Under Senate Bill 150, tenants would be liable for no more than one month's rent if compelled to vacate a property for personal protection.
The legislation drew support from landlord associations, law enforcement agencies and organizations committed to helping men and women in these dire circumstances. The original bill was sponsored by 26 members of the Senate.
"I believe Senate Bill 150 will save lives," said Sen. Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat who helped build the coalition. "Safe housing is an important step toward leaving an unsafe situation. The least we can do is make sure these victims are not discriminated against in housing when they do try and escape danger and abuse."
She said the bill sent to the House was a reasonable extension of other Kansas statutes intended to support victims. State law enables a person to obtain a substitute mailing address to avoid being tracked through the U.S. Postal Service. Victims of domestic violence also can qualify for unemployment benefits if forced to leave a job to escape harm.
"This was one of the most important pieces of legislation that I thought we would deal with this session," said Sen. Oletha Faust-Gadeau, D-Wichita. "A lot of those women and men who are victims of domestic violence, sometimes they become homeless."
Sen. Eric Rucker, the Topeka Republican who carried the bill Thursday on the Senate floor, said the measure was structured to provide protection to individuals who submitted documentation affirming they were the subject of stalking, sexual assault, human trafficking or domestic violence.
He said proof could be a document signed under penalty of perjury for false claims by the victim and someone involved in the case as a victim advocate. The evidence also could be a state or federal court document or the report of a local law enforcement agency, Rucker said.
"This is truly a bipartisan effort," said Rucker, who echoed comments by Sykes and Faust-Gadeau.
A comparable version of the bill introduced during February in the House and endorsed by 24 Republican and Democratic representatives hasn't been scheduled for a committee hearing.