The Ohio House of Representatives has approved legislation creating an Address Confidentiality Program aimed at shielding victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault from abusers and stalkers.

The measure, known as House Bill 359, was unanimously passed by the House, according to a statement issued Friday by state Rep. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, who co-sponsored the bill.

The measure now goes before the Ohio Senate. If approved there, it goes to  Gov. John Kasich’s desk to seek his signature. If passed, Ohio would become the 38th state to have an address confidentiality program.

This bill allows for domestic violence victims, as well as victims of rape, sexual battery, menacing by stalking and human trafficking to safely register to vote while keeping their home address confidential. Victims would be assigned an Address Confidentiality Program number that they can use instead of their home address when filling out an election ballot.

Virginia Beckham, executive director of Genesis House, the county’s shelter for victims of domestic abuse and assault, praised the vote approving the bill in the Ohio House.

“When this was first introduced, the world of domestic violence advocacy strongly supported efforts to make this a reality and now we’re excited that it has almost come to fruition,” Beckham said. “This is a big deal for survivors.”

Beckham said the bill’s impact is expected to be substantial.

“It is so difficult to start a new life and try to rebuild a life free from violence,” Beckham said. “Too often survivors’ efforts (to keep their whereabouts secret) are sabotaged and they are found by the person stalking or abusing them.”

“Their whole life is turned upside down and they are terrorized again,” Beckham added.

Unfortunately it has become easier for an abuser to find a victim with the help of all the personal data available on the Internet, Beckham said.

“Anything we can do to delay their actions to buy survivors time to really try and build a stable life is very important,” Beckham said.

The law could also lead to women being less fearful of registering to vote or taking part in other government functions because such actions could expose their identities.

Vehicle and voter registrations and the details they contain are matters of public record, but the ACP legislation would exempt any personal information from such documents.

Beckham credited Manning for his support of the measure.

The ACP program would be administered through the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

Each participant would be assigned an ACP number and a post office box to be used as an official address for government functions.

County board of elections personnel or law enforcement officials would be the only persons able to access a victim’s personal information to verify specific data for voter eligibility or some other legal purpose.

The program would also permit participants to request employers, schools or institutions of higher education to use P.O. boxes assigned to victims by the Secretary of State’s office.

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