Maine has a new law protecting survivors of domestic violence from economic abuse.
Maine has a new law protecting survivors of domestic violence from economic abuse. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

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Jessica Fay of Raymond represents Maine House District 66. She serves on the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Government Oversight Committee.

One of the greatest privileges of serving in the Maine Legislature is having the opportunity to work with members of our community to address the issues that affect our most vulnerable neighbors.

In 2016, I met a constituent whose story opened my eyes to the ways economic abuse is used to control survivors of domestic violence. Since that time, I have been working to support survivors and protect them from further economic hardship.

In many circumstances, economic abuse may include withholding access to money, using credit cards without authorization or exploiting an individual’s resources for personal gain. When economic abuse occurs, survivors can experience declines in their credit scores, which can lead to additional financial insecurity.

According to a 2019 report conducted by the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, 81 percent of survivors that were surveyed reported economic abuse as a barrier to leaving a harmful relationship.

Motivated by stories from our neighbors, I sponsored LD 748. Signed into law in 2019, this first-in-the-nation legislation finally defined economic abuse as causing or attempting to cause an individual to be financially dependent by maintaining control over financial resources. It also gave courts broader discretion in protection from abuse cases to issue monetary relief to survivors. Finally, it required third-party debt collectors and credit reporting agencies to stop collecting and reporting on debts resulting from economic abuse.

While this law is now in effect and protecting Mainers, it took three years to make sure this statute would be put in place.

In 2020, the new law was challenged by the Consumer Data Industry Association. A U.S. District Court ruled that the credit repair provision of the law was preempted by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1996, and that Congress prohibits states from interfering in credit reporting, putting the new law in jeopardy. This is where the Maine Office of the Attorney General stepped in. Recognizing that survivors should not be further punished financially due to economic abuse from their partners, the attorney general filed an appeal in an effort to reverse this decision. In early 2022, the case was won.

This summer, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ruled that states have the power to regulate financial protections for their residents. Finally, three years after the original bill was signed into law, survivors of economic abuse can finally benefit from the provisions put forth in LD 748.

Although we still have more to do to protect survivors, this new law and the court decision upholding it offer a significant step forward. While serving in the 131st Legislature, it is my intention to support efforts that will further protect those suffering from abuse.

The best ideas for legislation come from our community, and when issues are presented to me, I do my very best to address them — whether it be via existing resources or through the sponsorship of a much-needed bill. Please continue to reach out to your representative with questions and concerns.