OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- State lawmakers joined human services agencies Monday in support of legislation to allow domestic violence and sexual abuse victims to take time off from work for counseling and physical treatment without fear of being fired.
The state Senate-passed measure, which is pending in a state House committee, is opposed by a statewide business and industry group that said it is wrong to require all employers to follow the same rules when employees are physically and sexually abused. A similar measure failed to clear a House committee earlier this session.
"It's an interference on the workplace," said Mike Seney, senior vice president of The State Chamber, which represents 2,000 businesses in Oklahoma and 26 other states.
The Victims Economic Security and Safety Act would expand employee benefits under the federal Family Leave Act and allow unpaid leave for victims of domestic or sexual violence. It would also cover prenatal appointments for expecting mothers.
"This is a very good retention tool," said Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, the bill's author
Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, said women who are victimized by "scum-of-the-earth behavior" by spouses or domestic partners can obtain help under the measure without fear of losing their jobs.
"This is a bill that will protect her emotionally and physically," said Pam Maisano of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches.
Jan Peery, chief executive officer of the YWCA of Oklahoma City, said Oklahoma is ranked 12th in the nation in deaths from domestic violence.
"The trauma of these issues is unimaginable," Peery said.
Shirley Cox of Catholic Charities said businesses can profit from the measure by not having to hire and train a new employee to replace one who is unable to return to work following a sexual or domestic assault.
"Businesses can really be in the forefront," Cox said.
Seney said responsible employers already give workers time off to recover from a traumatic event and that mandating it in state law is unnecessary.
"Every employer responds differently. Some of them may do different things. And to mandate that all employers have to do the same things is wrong," Seney said. "We have enough difficulty attracting businesses to this state as it is."
Human services groups expressed support for a separate bill that would require court clerks and district attorneys to stop posting information about rape and domestic violence victims on the Internet.
Spokeswomen said accused perpetrators have actually tracked down their victims a second time with public information about the attacks posted on the Internet.
"It becomes a matter of absolute safety," said Marcia Smith of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Hamilton said public records about the assaults would still be available at county courthouses.