FEATURED: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, whose Senate District 21 includes Starr County, reacts on Friday, March 8, 2013, to being honored with a Presidential Citation, the highest honor bestowed by the University of Texas at Austin, at the university’s AT&T Conference Center.
Photograph Courtesy THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
Family violence victims would be freed from having their cell phone numbers controlled by violent abusers under bill authored by Rep. Guerra and sponsored by Sen. Zaffirini that was approved on May 19, 2021 by the Texas Legislature
Family violence victims would be freed from having their cell phone numbers controlled by violent abusers under House Bill 1372, authored by Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, which was approved – without opposition – on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, by the Texas Legislature.
The measure, which was sponsored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott for his support.
The Texas House of Representatives had approved House Bill 1372 on Friday, April 9, 2021, and when the Senate approved House Bill 1372 on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, those combined actions meant that the Texas Legislature had given final approval to the bill.
The Texas Family Code defines Family Violence as an act by a member of a family or household against another member that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm.
It has been suggested that there is a need to assist family violence survivors who are seeking to keep their wireless telephone numbers and service when the perpetrator of family violence is the primary account holder of the wireless telephone service account, according to Guerra.
Cell phone plans are usually contracted with a primary account holder and secondary account holders in such a way that only the primary account holder may make changes to the plan, including removing or transferring a secondary phone number from the plan, he added.
“Currently, victims of domestic violence can not separate their phone number from the phone plan without the abuser’s permission, which is often difficult and dangerous in many cases to accomplish,” Guerra explained. “One way many abusive partners may control, and keep control over, their victims is by controlling their (victims’) cell phone access and usage. This allows the abuser to find out where the survivor is, and even cancel the victims’ phone plan, to isolate them from the friends, families, work environment, and other avenues of independence.”
As the author, Guerra is the legislator who filed House Bill 1372 and guided it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).
File refers to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number.
A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by both chambers (House of Representatives and Senate) of the legislature and action by the governor in order to become effective. A bill is the primary means used to create and change the laws of the state. “Bill” types include Senate and House bills, Senate and House Joint Resolutions, Senate and House concurrent resolutions, and Senate and House resolutions.
As the sponsor, Zaffirini guided House Bill 1372 through the Senate after the bill has passed by Guerra in the House of Representatives.
Zaffirini’s Senate District 21 includes Starr County.
“The Texas Council on Family Violence estimates that one in three Texans will be a victim of domestic violence during their lifetime,” he added. “This is an alarming number, especially considering that victims of domestic violence often have a difficult time freeing themselves from their abuser.”
Guerra’s comments came during the public hearing by the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues that was held on Monday, March 15, 2021 at the Texas Capitol.
A committee is a group of legislators appointed by the presiding officer of the House or the Senate to which proposed legislation is referred or a specific task is assigned.
Rep. Ana-María Ramos, D-Richardson, and Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, are joint authors of Guerra’s House Bill 1372.
In the House of Representatives, a joint author is a member authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure and have his or her name shown following the primary author’s name on official printings of the measure, on calendars, and in the journal. The primary author may authorize up to four joint authors.
Rep. Nichole Collier, D-Ft. Worth, is a co-author of Guerra’s House Bill 1372.
A coauthor is a legislator authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure. A coauthor must be a member of the chamber in which the bill was filed.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented many individuals from testifying in person during committee hearings at the Texas Capitol, they were still able to submit their comments to House committee members through correspondence such as emails, which then become part of the public record in the Texas Legislature.
Testimony on House Bill 1372 was heard by the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence on Thursday, May 13, 2021, when Zaffirini presented the measure before that legislative panel, which includes Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as Vice Chair.
Zaffirini provided highlights of House Bill 1372 before the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence, including:
• House Bill 1372 would amend the Family Code to allow protective order petitioners to request separation of their wireless telephone number from the respondent’s wireless telephone service account if the petitioner is the primary user of that number.
• House Bill 1372 would allow a petitioner’s request to include a phone number used primarily by the petitioner’s child. Upon a showing that the child in the petitioner’s care or custody is the primary user of the phone number, the court is required to render a separate order directing the wireless telephone service provider to transfer the billing responsibilities and rights to each listed wireless telephone number to the petitioner.
• The order would be required to include the name and billing information, the telephone number to be transferred, and a statement requiring the wireless telephone service provider to transfer to the petitioner all financial responsibility for and the right to use each wireless telephone number transferred.
• The court would then be required to serve a copy of the order on the registered agent for the wireless telephone service provider and ensure that the contact information of the petitioner is not provided to the respondent as the wireless telephone service account holder.
• House Bill 1372 would also amend (change) the Business and Commerce code to direct wireless telephone service providers on procedures to comply with the court’s order, prohibiting collection of fees associated with early termination, and prohibiting a provider from being subject to civil liability for compliance with the court’s order.
Registering with the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence, in favor of House Bill 1372, were:
• Breall Baccus, Policy Coordinator, Texas Council on Family Violence, Austin;
• Kirk Broaddus, representing himself, from Austin;
• Donna Bryan, representing herself, from Austin;
• Kareny Collins, representing herself, from Austin;
• Annie Compton, Director, Indivisible Rosedale Huddle, Austin;
• Judy Field, representing herself, from Austin;
• Georgia Keysor, Indivisible Rosedale Huddle, Austin;
• Julie Wheeler, Intergovernmental Relations Officer, Travis County Commissioners Court, Austin; and
• M. Paige Williams, Assistant District Attorney, Dallas County Criminal District Attorney, Dallas.
The House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues, which first heard the bill by Guerra on Monday, March 15, 2021 at the Texas Capitol, received the following testimony in favor of House Bill 1372:
I am a student at the University of Texas at El Paso. I am a Changemaker and Campus Organizer with Deeds Not Words, an organization dedicated to standing up for gender equity in Texas that galvanizes the power of young people through organizing, policy-making, artistic expression and voting.
I believe no victim of abuse should be at the mercy of their abuser in any regard, much less a financial one.
I am here in favor of House Bill 1372.
During my divorce, my ex-husband used our joint finances to manipulate and control my actions and behaviors. He drained our accounts without my knowledge when he found out I wanted to continue my education. He canceled our debit card from our joint account so he could dictate how I paid the bills and the amount I could spend at the grocery store. He even checked our cell phone transcripts to make sure I was being an attentive mother to our daughter. When I finally decided to take back my freedom and separate our lines, I was told I needed my, soon-to-be, ex-husband’s permission. My heart sank. He still had power and control over me.
Domestic violence survivors experience great shame for not being able to leave their abusers. They are faulted for staying despite their suffering. What most people do not consider is how much their lives depend on their abusers. What they don’t see is how difficult it can be to separate when one person in the relationship pays for the car, the food, the childcare, the medical, and cell phone bills.
For these reasons, many survivors choose to stay to preserve their livelihood and maintain custody of their children. In situations like the ones described here, leaving my abuser was already surrounded by barriers. We need to break down as many barriers as possible so that survivors don’t have to be at the mercy of an abuser they need to separate from. We need to pass House Bill 137 so that there is one less barrier for survivors looking to take back their independence and safety.
I would like to conclude by thanking you for your time and for giving me the opportunity to share with you today to share why the passing of House Bill 137 is crucial to me and so many others in the same situation.
Perpetrators of violence and domestic abuse use an impressive array of means to control the person they are abusing. They may use physical, emotional, psychological, financial, legal or other types of abuse – and this includes using technology to control and to track the person that they are abusing.
SAFE conducts safety planning with survivors of violence, and it always includes a discussion about technology and specifically cell phones. Does the phone have a tracking device, can you turn off the GPS function, does the person using violence have access to your phone? Allowing a survivor to have a cell phone – and a phone number – that are completely disconnected and safe from the person using abuse will allow them to not just feel safer, but to find the means to leave the abusive partner when they choose.
The SAFE Alliance firmly supports this bill.
Deeds Not Words
I am a student at Rice University and a Campus Organizer for Deeds Not Words, an organization dedicated to standing up for gender equity in Texas that galvanizes the power of young people through organizing, policy- making, artistic expression and voting.
I am writing to you today to urge you to pass House Bill 1372, to allow survivors of domestic violence to separate their wireless telephone number from a primary account holder’s account without obtaining the primary account holder’s permission. This is an important step towards demonstrating real protection for survivors. It is vital that we give survivors of domestic violence the autonomy to remove themselves from their abusive situation, and be able to do so without fear of the perpetrators.
HB 1372 would do just that – give them the autonomy and freedom they need to remove themselves from an abusive and violent situation. The time is now for you to do your part as elected officials to support survivors in Texas. This state has the top ten highest reported domestic abuse cases in the country; a shameful statistic with approximately 35% of Texans report having experienced some type of domestic violence.
It is the job of the Texas Legislature to make positive change with the aim of reducing domestic violence in the state. How can we as citizens be expected to fulfill our own duties to our state and give back to the communities we live in, if our state does not truly give the ability, privacy, and support that survivors need?
I urge you to take this step in letting survivors of domestic violence know that they are seen and supported, and that you are doing your part to aid them as much as you can.
Thank you for your time and for giving me the opportunity to share why House Bill 1372 is a critical piece of legislation.
Good afternoon, I am writing this committee in support of HB 1372 by Representative Guerra. House Bill 1372 addresses the issues that victims of family violence face in regards to their safety and their cell phone usage by requiring a wireless service provider, at the victim’s request, to transfer the phone number and billing to them solely without attaching any prior fees or additional charges beyond which are customary. I support House Bill 1372, and hope that this committee keeps the safety of victims of family violence in mind.
Bill Analysis for House Bill 1372
When House Bill 1372 went before the full House of Representatives, it included a bill analysis, which is a document prepared for all bills and joint resolutions reported out of committee. A bill analysis may include background information on the measure, a statement of purpose or intent, and an analysis of the content of the measure.
That bill analysis for House Bill 1372 was prepared by the House Research Organization.
The House Research Organization is a nonpartisan independent department of the Texas House of Representatives. It provides impartial information on legislation and issues before the Texas Legislature. The HRO is governed by a broadly representative steering committee of 15 House members elected by the House membership to set policy for the organization, approve its budget, and ensure that its reports are objective.
Background and Purpose
It has been suggested that there is a need to assist family violence survivors who are seeking to keep their wireless telephone numbers and service when the perpetrator of family violence is the primary account holder of the wireless telephone service account.
Cell phone plans are usually contracted with a primary account holder and secondary account holders in such a way that only the primary account holder may make changes to the plan, including removing or transferring a secondary phone number from the plan.
It has been noted that some perpetrators maintain control of their victims by isolating the victim from friends, families, and other sources of support and that canceling the victim’s cell phone plan is one way to accomplish this.
House Bill 1372 seeks to better protect victims of family violence by authorizing the separation of the wireless telephone numbers of a petitioner and any applicable children from the account of a primary account holder by means of a court order.
Criminal Justice Impact
It is the committee’s opinion that this bill does not expressly create a criminal offense, increase the punishment for an existing criminal offense or category of offenses, or change the eligibility of a person for community supervision, parole, or mandatory supervision.
It is the committee’s opinion that this bill does not expressly grant any additional rulemaking authority to a state officer, department, agency, or institution.
House Bill 1372 amends the Family Code to authorize a petitioner for a protective order who is the primary user of a wireless telephone number associated with the respondent’s wireless telephone service account to request the court that renders the protective order also to order the following:
• The separation of that telephone number from the respondent’s account; and
• If applicable, the separation of each wireless telephone number primarily used by a child in the petitioner’s care or custody.
The request must include each wireless telephone number for which the petitioner requests separation.
House Bill 1372 requires the court to render a separate order directing the wireless telephone service provider to transfer the billing responsibilities and rights to each listed number to the petitioner if the petitioner shows by a preponderance of the evidence that for each number listed in the request the petitioner or child, as applicable, is the primary user.
The bill sets out the required contents of the order, which include a statement requiring the provider to transfer to the petitioner all financial responsibility for and the right to use each number transferred, and establishes that this financial responsibility includes the monthly service costs associated with any associated mobile device.
The bill requires the court to do the following:
• Serve a copy of the order on the registered agent for the wireless telephone service provider; and
• Ensure that the petitioner’s contact information is not provided to the respondent as the wireless telephone service account holder in a proceeding under the bill’s provisions.
House Bill 1372 amends the Business & Commerce Code to require a wireless telephone service provider, on receipt of a court order for separation of a wireless telephone account, to transfer the use of each telephone number listed in the order to the petitioner.
A provider is not required to complete the transfer if the provider notifies the petitioner, not later than the fifth business day after the provider receives the court order, of any of the following issues:
• The account holder named in the order has terminated the account;
• A difference in network technology would prevent or impair the functionality of a device on a network if the transfer occurs;
• The transfer would cause a geographic or other limitation on the network or service provision to the petitioner; or
• Another technological or operational issue would prevent or impair the use of the number if the transfer occurs.
House Bill 1372 authorizes a provider to charge the petitioner routine and customary fees and to impose routine and customary requirements for establishing an account.
The bill prohibits the provider from doing the following in imposing and collecting fees:
• Imposing a penalty for early termination of a contract in connection with separating an account;
• Holding the petitioner responsible for any outstanding balance of the respondent’s account or require payment of the outstanding balance as a condition of separating an account; or
• Charging a fee for transferring the wireless telephone number in addition to the usual and customary fees for establishing an account.
The bill requires the provider to make available a written description of any further action by the petitioner that is required to complete the transfer process. The bill exempts a provider and its officers, employees, and agents from civil liability for actions taken as required by a court order under the bill’s provisions.
Wednesday,September 1, 2021 (if the final version is approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and not vetoed by the governor).
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