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Michigan Senate OKs confidential address program for victims

By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to create an address confidentiality program designed to safeguard victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking from their attackers, which would bring the state in line with most others.

The legislation , which goes to the state House for consideration, would establish the program in the attorney general's office. Crime victims certified to participate would have a state address and be able to keep their residential addresses secret in publicly available voting, driver's license and other records.

The state Department of Technology, Management and Budget would rent a post office box, from which participants' mail would be forwarded to their physical addresses. Their voter registration and other information would be shielded from public-records requests. After four years, participants could renew their certification.

"Many people who are survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking — they cannot be safe when they try to restart their life," said Sen. Margaret O'Brien, a Portage Republican who sponsored two of the seven bills, including the one that would create the program. "So we wanted to offer a reasonable path that could help them stay in Michigan but start over and be able to be safe."

Supporters said as many as 37 other states have similar programs. They said some victims must resort to switching jobs, changing their names or moving to get away from a perpetrator, only to be found because of information that is publicly available.

If the program becomes law, 3,000 to 5,000 Michigan residents could end up participating, O'Brien said. The state would begin offering the confidentiality option within 180 days of the law taking effect.

Upon request, the attorney general could provide the confidential address, telephone number and email address of a participant to a law enforcement or other government agency if the information is needed for a "legitimate governmental purpose."

The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency estimates that it would cost $300,000 to create applications, participation cards, a training program and a database. The cost for labor and mailing is projected to be $13,200 per year for each group of 300 participants. The cost to issue new driver's licenses would be minimal.

"We've got to give these victims the power to hide and we need to assist them," said another main sponsor, Republican Sen. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge.

The legislation won bipartisan support from the GOP-led Senate. In the Republican-controlled House, Democratic female lawmakers also have embraced the concept of address confidentiality while also proposing other legislation that would require people subject to personal protection orders to relinquish their guns. Other Democratic-backed measures are aimed at addressing housing- or job-related factors that keep victims with their abusers.

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