Governor Snyder recently signed into law two bipartisan bills that address the issue of family phone plans as they pertain to domestic abuse victims. According to State Representatives Vanessa Guerra, and Tom Barrett, HB 5641 and 5642 were crafted to protect domestic abuse victims during the “cell phone age.”
When you think about it, most people’s lives these days are indelibly tied up in their mobile devices. Your phone connects you to your contacts, your social media accounts, and your email, among other things. A person who loses their phone, loses much more than a way to call out – they lose their way to maintain a support network during difficult times.
For victims of domestic abuse whose phone plans are part and parcel of a family package, they risk losing everything if they seek out safety. The way most cell phone family plans are set up, the person whose name is on the contract has almost exclusive rights to every line on the plan. They can cancel a line on a whim, access call histories, and in some cases even determine the location of each phone on the plan.
For this reason, Guerra says, this law was long overdue. Under the new law, a domestic abuse survivor who is seeking to escape an abusive situation can request that the court grant them the ability to legally separate from their shared phone plan. What makes this separation different, is the fact that they would be able to retain their phone numbers, their contact lists, and all of their other personal information. In other words, they keep their phone and everything on it, but lose the plan that ties them to their abuser.
Although legislation of a similar nature has been passed in several other states, it wasn’t until AT&T brought the idea to State Representative Tom Barrett, that the ball got rolling here in Michigan. When asked what had led the company to raise this issue, AT&T Michigan’s director of public affairs, Matt Resch said that these were the kind of situations that need to remain on the front lines, in order to ensure that potential issues are addressed before they develop into full blown problems.
This new legislation offers the survivors of domestic abuse an easier way to separate from their abusers, and a better chance of maintaining their support networks during the stressful transition. In addition, this legislation makes escape easier for those whose situations are volatile and violent, and who are concerned for their lives and the lives of their children.