TAMPA, Fla. — A new law passed by the Florida Legislature looks to help domestic abuse victims expedite restraining orders.
In a Tuesday press conference at the Hillsborough County Courthouse, Senator Janet Cruz was joined by members of law enforcement, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, Clerk of Courts Cindy Stuart, and Mindy Murphy with The Spring of Tampa Bay to announce the signing into law of SB654.
The law will now make filings of injunctions across the state electronic, rather than through traditional mail as it has been done in the past.
"No one should have to wait for protection while the postal service attempts to deliver a restraining order," Sen. Cruz said.
Courtney Weil is a domestic violence survivor and hopes the change will help other women who are where she was thirty years ago. For two years, she endured abuse from her partner, who at times, she thought would kill her.
"He began kicking me in the stomach. Throwing me on the ground and I would say, what are you doing and he said well you were pregnant before. I couldn't do this," Weil said.
It was thanks to The Spring of Tampa Bay that she found refuge and an attorney who helped her file an injunction.
"I remember having to fill out all the paperwork and then you had to submit the paperwork and then you had to wait for the paperwork to come back and wait for him to be served before everything was in place," Weil said.
In that time she said her abuser continued to threaten her, follow her to work, and even tried running her off the road. Legally, he could get away with some of it because her injunction was waiting to be finalized.
"No mother should have to wait in fear for her life or her children's life wondering whether a restraining order has been served on their abusive partner," Sen. Cruz said.
It was through filing an injunction in another county that Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts Cindy Stuart found the system was dated and dangerous for victims.
"We quickly found, started finding examples of people who were waiting days to know that a sheriff's office had actually served an injunction on a defendant or for a victim to get notice of that," Stuart said. "To have to sit and wait as a victim and wonder if that injunction has been served yet, I can't imagine the angst that a victim is feeling at that time."
Sen. Cruz said the signing of the bill into law last week was one of the most important tasks in her tenure.
In addition, injunctions can now be filed electronically at the Hillsborough County Courthouse, sheriff's office, and The Spring of Tampa Bay. The law will go into effect on October 1st which is the start of domestic violence month.
Weil said it's a win she hopes will produce more survivors than shame.
"I am hoping that with everything that these women will have more courage to leave sooner because they know that there is something that will help," Weil said.
The Spring of Tampa Bay — 813-247-7233
How to file an injunction in Hillsborough County: https://www.hillsclerk.com/court-services/domestic-violence.
National Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233.