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Bill would give domestic violence survivors new access to courthouse, but only in select counties

From left to right: Sen. Connor, Sen. Stadelman, Carrie Ward of ICASA, and Amanda Pyron of The Network.
From left, Sen. Connor, Sen. Stadelman, Carrie Ward of ICASA, and Amanda Pyron of The Network.

A new bill would allow domestic violence survivors to file for an order of protection online, offering relief from having to face their abuser in court.

Democratic state Sens. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, and John Connor, D-Lockport, developed SB 3667 with input from domestic violence advocates and the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

The focus, Stadelman said, is increasing survivor safety.

“If the victim has to go to the courthouse, the one who's accused knows where that person has to go, and unfortunately that fear and intimidation often prevents victims from being present at their hearings and following up on their request for a court order protection,” Stadelman said at a press conference Wednesday.

Stadelman and Connor also worked with domestic violence advocacy group The Network to develop this bill. The Network’s CEO Amanda Pyron said the requirement to provide virtual options will increase access for survivors to get the protection they need.

“Remote access has enabled survivors who wouldn't feel comfortable coming into a court to be able to access legal protections. Survivors who may be concerned about their legal status in the country or who may be concerned about their safety and the courthouse. It has really allowed the legal system to become more accessible to survivors who have different needs and may feel a bit more comfortable remotely versus being in a court setting,” said Pyron.

Under this bill, survivors across the state would be able to file for an order of protection electronically. However, only counties with a population of 250,000 or more would be required to offer a virtual hearing option.

Illinois has nine counties above this population threshold, clustered around Chicago and East St. Louis: Cook, DuPage, Lake, Will, Kane, McHenry, Winnebago, Madison, and St. Clair counties.

Stadelman said the ability to participate in hearings remotely would increase a survivor's safety, but he said he can't guarantee that smaller counties would be able to meet the requirements of this bill.

“We know that the counties above that population threshold have the remote capabilities already. They have the internet infrastructure and system in place. I didn't want a legislation that mandated, for example, a smaller county downstate they would have to spend $50,000 immediately on upgrading their technological capabilities,” said Stadelman.

There is nothing in the bill that prohibits a smaller county from offering remote options if they have the infrastructure in place.

The bill passed through the Senate on Wednesday with unanimous agreement and will be sent to the House.

Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.