TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A bipartisan bill to speed up how domestic violence protection orders are transferred around the state would help thousands of Florida residents find safety from their abusers.
Senate Bill 654, sponsored by state senator Janet Cruz (D-Tampa), would let county clerks send protection orders electronically to law enforcement agencies, instead of having to send them as physical copies in the mail. Currently, state law only allows electronic transfers when they’re requested by a sheriff’s office.
SB 654, and its companion in the House, HB 905, would change the transmission requirements to ensure safety and speed for victims in need of protection. The version in the Florida House of Representatives is sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff (R-Volusia County). The bills also impose a deadline for sending the injunctions electronically. If the bills pass, protective orders would have to be sent within 24 hours of being issued in court.
“Currently, many sheriffs’ offices or law enforcement agencies only accept domestic violence documents by mail, causing a delay in the process. By allowing these documents to be sent electronically, we can shorten the timeline for defendants to be served with injunctions and increase government efficiency, all while improving the safety of petitioners and domestic violence survivors,” Cruz said.
The injunctions cover protections against “repeat violence, sexual violence, or dating violence,” according to the bill, and current Florida statutes.
The statutes define such violence as “any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another.”
Should there be an internet outage, the proposed bill has provisions to deal with it. Specifically, in the case of a loss of service or “other significant disruption in network connectivity” that would prevent sending electronic copies for more than 24 hours, the bill says the clerk of court can get copies of protective orders to the relevant law enforcement agency in other ways.
More specific to Hillsborough County, Stuart also launched a program which allows domestic violence victims to get text messages for each step of the injunction filing process. The clerk’s office said victims can request status updates and real-time delivery of violence protection on their phones. The office also allows petitions to be remotely notarized so victims can shelter safely and prevent time delays, thanks to previous legislation.
Those ways include “facsimile, hand delivery, or certified or registered mail.” A facsimile is a copy sent by fax.
The electronic copies of injunctions must still be certified and served in the same manner as a physical copy of an injunction, according to the bill. The bill would also allow sheriff’s offices and other law enforcement to send electronic copies to clerks of court.
“This legislation is about victims and the huge impact it would have on their safety. As a newly elected Clerk, one of my commitments is protecting my constituents. Time matters–seconds matter,” Stuart said in a statement.
Analysis of the bill by the Florida Legislature said the bill also specifies which documents are required to receive an injunction, and be sent to law enforcement within 24 hours of court notice.
Those documents include:
- The petition
- Any temporary injunction issued
- Any notice of hearing
- Any financial affidavit
- Any Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act affidavit
Both versions of the bill have the support of the Hillsborough County Clerk, Cindy Stuart. In a media release, Stuart said more than 6,500 domestic violence victims in Hillsborough County, and 80,000 statewide, request protection orders every year, and supports the legislation to help the victims with a safer, faster process.