Raimondo backs bill to enhance aid to crime victims
General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo has put her stamp of approval on legislation that would increase funding and improve the Crime Victims Compensation Program for victims of violent crimes.
Currently, this emergency fund, which is run through the General Treasurer’s office, provides funds to innocent victims of violent crimes to cover costs including burial expenses, crime-scene clean-up and medical treatment including mental health counseling and hospital care. House Bill 5969 and its companion, Senate Bill 0909, would amend the fund to include awards up to $2,500 to cover any necessary relocation costs.
Raimondo joined lead sponsors Representative Anastasia Williams and Senator Donna Nesselbush, and members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, SOAR Rhode Island and the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence to announce the bill on May 6 in Central Falls.
“This legislative proposal will change lives and could possibly save them,” said Raimondo in a press release detailing the announcement. “By government coming together to work with community leaders, we are finding solutions to keep families safe.”
A document from the treasurer’s office that describes the legislation in laymen’s terms says, “This legislation will help families find, or reach, safe and affordable shelter.”
During her Financial Empowerment Library Tour, Raimondo spoke briefly about the program with the Beacon. She says relocation is often an important step in starting over after experiencing a violent crime; she cited victims of domestic abuse as individuals who would benefit greatly from the passage of this bill.
“If you are in a dangerous situation, you need to get out,” said Raimondo, who says relocation funds could include help with housing or even just a bus or plane ticket. She added that relocation is often the necessary first-step to starting a good life after a violent incident.
And, according to data from the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there are many Rhode Islanders who may be in situations that they need to escape. According to the coalition’s annual report, 3,044 people received restraining orders from Rhode Island Family and District Courts, but over 900 people were charged with violating such orders.
Raimondo decided to support this legislation because many of the community action groups who work with the Crime Victims Compensation Program spoke with her about the importance of relocation.
As a whole, the program has helped many Rhode Islanders across the state. According to the General Treasurer’s office, in Fiscal Year 2012 the fund made 1,300 payments to 422 families, providing a total of $1.9 million to victims.
Ashley Gingerella O’Shea, associate director of communications, explained that the program is funded from a variety of sources including fines and court fees collected from convicted criminals, funds from the federal government, grants from the Office of Justice Programs within the Department of Justice and judge-mandated donations due to minor infractions.
The fund was established in 1972 and will cover bills and loss of earnings up to $25,000. It was last amended in 2011 to increase the award for burial expenses up to $8,000 and add funds for crime scene cleanup not to exceed $2,000. The House Judiciary committee held House bill 5969 for further study on May 9, while Senate bill 909 is scheduled for hearing on May 16.
The House bill is co-sponsored by Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) and Representatives Joy Hearn (D-Barrington, East Providence), Eileen Naughton (D-Warwick) and Edith Ajello (D-Providence). Senators Susan Sosnowski (D-North Shoreham, South Kingstown), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Central Falls, Pawtucket), Hanna Gallo (D-Cranston, West Warwick) and Gayle Goldin (D-Providence).