After hearing tearful testimony from a survivor of domestic violence, Gov. Laura Kelly signed Senate Bill 78 yesterday in the Lenexa council chambers. The law provides housing protections for survivors of domestic violence who have attempted to leave abusive relationships.
Bill sponsor Sen. Dinah Sykes said in introductory remarks that she was “honored” to have the governor sign this “really important legislation.”
“When I introduced this legislation, I was humbled to have such a broad, bipartisan support,” Sykes said. “And even with that support, moving this legislation through the process and securing the votes necessary for passage was no easy task.”
Sykes said she was “deeply thankful” for all who supported the bill, including those who testified in favor. She said the Associated Landlords of Kansas, “realizing the need for this legislation,” called her to advise her how to overcome barriers they faced in passing the bill.
Safe housing is key for victims trying to leave a dangerous situation, Sykes said, adding that emergency shelters are often full and landlords can deny housing applications from victims because of their history.
“Housing protections were already in place for those who are discriminated against for other reasons like race, sex and religion,” Sykes said, “but now we have extended these protections to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and stalking so that they may become survivors.”
Kelly called the legislation a “common sense” bill that involved the work of several local advocates, including the Lenexa Police Department, the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, the Westwood Police Department, the YMCA, Safehome and 28 bill co-sponsors.
The governor said Senate Bill 78 ensures that landlords can’t discriminate, evict or charge an unreasonable fee to survivors for breaking a lease.
“We know it takes great courage to leave an abuser,” Kelly said. “Not only that, leaving an abuser is often the most dangerous time for the survivor. Housing obstacles shouldn’t be another hoop a survivor must jump through to get away from danger.”
“We must all do what we can to encourage women and men to leave abusive relationships. These are our friends and our neighbors, and they need our support.”
Sein Kina, a survivor who spoke at the ceremony, said the new law should help protect survivors and prevent further violence. Passage of the bill “means a lot” to her and many other survivors, she said. On behalf of survivors who have left dangerous situations, she thanked Sykes for introducing the bill, for all lawmakers who supported it and for Gov. Kelly for signing it into law.
“I don’t have any words that are enough to say thank you for bringing this very important, life-saving piece of legislation,” Kina said to Sykes. “Thank you for keeping me, my children and all other families safe.
“Now I know that any other survivors out there, or any other woman, man or children that are worried about the situation of leaving will be able to leave knowing that they have the support of the law enforcement, legislators and all their families.”
When she made the decision to flee her abuser, Kina and her two children only had $5 and a car. But as an educated, working professional, she made too much money and didn’t meet income requirements for assistance.
So a friend gave her a place to stay. But although friends helped raise money for her to find housing, her landlord wouldn’t let her out of her lease at her former residence.
As a survivor and president of the Keep Girls Safe Foundation, Kina believes the enactment of Senate Bill 78 is not a celebration but a call for action, because there is still shame around domestic violence, and survivors are afraid to speak out or to flee their abusers.
“Yes, we have seen progress, and it’s highly welcomed, but we can do more,” Kina said. “I challenge each and everyone of you here to be the change that you’d like to see.”