Bill would exempt domestic-violence victims from phone termination fees


Domestic-violence victims trying to break free from abusive relationships sometimes encounter roadblocks from an unlikely quarter — their own cellphone providers, according to a state legislator.

State Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said that's why he has introduced legislation to exempt domestic-violence victims from early-termination and other fees when they remove themselves from their abusers' cellphone contracts, or vice versa. Those fees can run into the hundreds of dollars, he has said.

"In today's world, a cellphone is a lifeline," Schreiber said.

But some domestic abusers use their cellphone contracts to keep tabs on their partners, he said, whether by checking to see who the partner has contacted or tracking the partner through a cellphone's GPS functions.

House Bill 1108 also would force cellphone companies to give new phone numbers to domestic-violence victims within a 24-hour period, according to the bill.

Proof required: Abuse victims would need to provide cellphone providers with documentation to show they're being abused, such as a police report, a protection from abuse order or a signed affidavit from a medical professional, according to the bill.

In a memo to his colleagues, Schreiber noted that for domestic-violence victims, "being able to hide from or avoid an assailant or abuser may be the difference between life and death."

Today's technology makes hiding more difficult, especially if a victim and abuser share a phone plan — and especially if the victim isn't the primary account-holder, he said.

"It's not a silver bullet," Schreiber said of HB 1108, which is currently in committee. "But it's another tool (to help keep victims safe)."

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence is supporting the proposed legislation, he said.

Schreiber said it's his understanding cellphone providers worked to defeat a similar bill introduced in the New York State Assembly.

Second bill: Schreiber has also introduced a second bill, HB 1267, which would create a task force to study intimate violence on college campuses.

The Task Force on Campus Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Assault would be under the purview of the state Department of Education, according to Schreiber's staff, and would hold at least three public hearings on college or university classes.

The task force would then create a report detailing its findings about the prevalence of domestic violence on college campuses and offer recommendations to reduce the problem, according to the bill.

HB 1267 remains in committee, he said.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at