Missouri’s Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and state legislators are aiming to strengthen protection for participants in the state’s Safe at Home program. Several hundred victims of domestic violence and other crimes utilize the program, which allows them to use the Secretary of State’s office as their legal address.
By providing a barrier for victims of these highly personal crimes, “it is much more difficult for people that would want to do them harm to find where they are truly living and come attack them,” Ashcroft said.
Discussion was sparked after a judge in a St. Louis court case ordered a participant of the Safe at Home program to release her address because her application didn’t comply with Missouri law. The law currently requires a sworn statement of abuse from alleged victims.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office petitioned to intervene in the case, including filing an emergency motion earlier this week. However, the requests were denied by the court.
“We disagree with the court’s ruling and will continue to litigate vigorously to defend the Safe at Home program,” Attorney General Josh Hawley said in a written statement Wednesday.
Ashcroft added that they are taking the case to the appellate courts. He sees this as opportunity to strengthen the program to ensure the participants will be protected.
“We want to make sure that the onus of protecting these individuals is not on their ability to defend themselves in court from the requirement that their addresses be disclosed,” Ashcroft said. “And if they are ordered to disclose that address we have the authority to and the force of law to stand up and say, ‘You are not going to fight with the victim, you are going to fight with our office.’”
Currently, Ashcroft is working with top legislators to make legislative changes to alter the legal language, making it clear the Secretary of State’s office can intervene on behalf of the victim. Since it is late in the legislative session, the changes were attached to a bill in the house that is currently moving to the Senate.
“Although the circumstances and what has happened to these people is terrible, I think it is a wonderful opportunity for individuals on both sides of the aisle to come together on an issue we should all agree with and move forward to make this program better,” Ashcroft said.
He hopes to see the changes passed by the end of the legislative session on May 12.
“We are not going to make these changes and then stop. This is something that we will be periodically looking at to see what can be done better in this program. This is where government ought to operate. It’s protecting those people who have no power, vulnerable individuals with no voice.
In the meantime, the Safe at Home application process has been updated to include a sworn statement from all participants.