Thirty years ago today, voters in Phelps County approved a measure that increased fees on marriage and divorce filings to support victims of domestic violence.
Members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Rolla as well as some former members of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Rolla chapter on Easter Sunday recognized the 30th anniversary of the measure’s passage with a reception.
During the April 5, 1983, election, county voters approved raising the marriage license fee by $5 to $10 and the divorce filing fee by $10 to $90 at that time.
The proposal passed by a vote of 1,534 to 540 (a 74 percent approval rating), according to an article published in The Rolla Daily News by Charlotte Wiggins after the election. A total of 3,529 county residents turned out to the polls that year.
Part of the filing fees would go to support existing shelters in another part of the state. At that time, there was no shelter for victims of domestic violence in the county that qualified for the fees. The
proposal pre-dates the Russell House by about 10 years and the fees could not be used to build a new shelter.
The Russell House now recieves some money from the fees.
The nearest shelters were about 90 to 100 miles away — in Springfield, Columbia and St. Louis.
The measure was designed as a way for communities to provide funds for existing qualifying shelters and provide temporary shelter, counseling and other services to family members who are victims of domestic violence, the RDN article stated.
Gloria Tefft, who lives outside Rolla, was part of the Rolla chapter of NOW, which spearheaded the effort to raise awareness about domestic violence and institute special fees for the victims.
The fee increases were initially approved by the General Assembly which approved legislation outlining how the fees should be generated, who would administer them and how they would be distributed. The legislation required only the approval of the county’s administrative court to increase the fees to support a shelter.
However because of the Hancock Amendment, which prohibits any increases in taxes or fees without voter approval, the measure had to be placed before the voters before the administrative court could take any action.
Tefft said she researched the law and worked with the county commissioners at the time to get the proposal on the April 1983 ballot.
She remembers the efforts being an approximate six-month campaign up until the vote passed.
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“It took several months to size up the problem and figure out how bad it (domestic violence) was here,” she said.
Tefft said a group of about 15 or maybe 20 people, including herself, worked to encourage passage of the proposal.
Each person had their own duties, such as research and informing the public. “My particular responsibility was to get the ballot language right,” Tefft said.
Based on records she kept from the election, Tefft said the heaviest support of the proposal came from Ward 3 in Rolla. “We had quite a bit of support in the outlying areas, too, like Doolittle, Edgar Springs and Newburg,” she added.
Some police chiefs and city officials from the various communities also expressed support for the measure, Tefft recalled.
“I see this as a very good thing that the voters of Phelps County set in motion 30 years ago. It’s ongoing and still doing good,” Tefft said.