Last Wednesday, the Georgia legislature met at the state Capitol for Crossover Day. Crossover Day is when the bills proposed this year “cross over” between the House and Senate. Then, each chamber decides whether they will have a chance to become laws. Two bills that made the cut are House Bills 605 and 834.
According to the Georgia General Assembly website, the purpose of HB 605, aka the Hidden Predator Act of 2018, is to give childhood sexual abuse survivors more protections should they seek legal action. The most recent version aims to “extend the statute of limitations for actions for childhood sexual abuse under certain circumstances[,] to provide for retroactive claims for childhood sexual abuse under certain circumstances,” amend existing laws for clarity and repeal any conflicting laws. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the bill would also raise the statutory limit from 23 years old to 38.
Darkness to Light, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching adults ways to prevent child sexual abuse, reported in 2015 that only around 38 percent of child victims tell anyone about their abuse. Additionally, “[n]early 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children aged 17 and under.” If HB 605 becomes law, childhood abuse survivors of any age whose case had lapsed or expired under the current statute of limitations would be able to file a civil action. This reexamination period would be active for a year after July 1.
The most recent incarnation of HB 834, according to the Georgia General Assembly, provides guidelines for breaking a rental lease in the case of domestic abuse (referred to as “family violence” in the bill’s text). Once a resident files a verified petition detailing past harm and providing probable cause that the behavior may continue, the court may grant a temporary protective order for them or a minor in the household. The alleged abuser does not have to be present for this ruling.
Afterward, there will be a hearing. If the court deems it necessary to issue a criminal family violence order (which takes the form of either a probation order against the accused or order of pretrial release if they have already been arrested for domestic abuse), the petitioner can give their landlord a written notice of termination. The note will allow them to move out after 30 days, but they are still responsible for the rent that is due until the termination notice is effective.
However, this does not mean landlords are without recourse. They can keep the security deposit if the tenant does not pay the rent, utility bills or other fees, abandons the premises without notice and cannot be reached after reasonable effort, contracts a third-party repair or cleaning services or if their breach leads to damages (providing the landlord tried to reduce them). If the landlord finds damages beyond the usual wear and tear, they can retain some of the deposit to cover the repair costs.
A Time article examining why people stay in abusive relationships found that many “feared they’d be homeless or living in poverty if they left.” In some cases, the survivors said their abusive partners would do what they could to control access to money. They achieved this by sabotaging the survivor’s attempts to get a job and piling debt onto their credit cards. The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported that domestic abuse is the leading cause of injury to American women, “over mugging, automobile accidents and rape, combined.” Additionally, the site stated that when comparing the rates at which men kill women, Georgia ranked as the tenth highest in the U.S. in 2009. If HB 834 becomes law, it may help alleviate one major obstacle domestic abuse survivors often find themselves faced with when trying to avoid that outcome.
Overall, HB 605 and 834 making it through Crossover Day are poised to be positive steps for some of the most vulnerable groups of people in Georgia: children and domestic abuse survivors. As the bills move through the chambers of local government and face possible revisions, there will be more updates to come.