Legislature(2009 - 2010)HOUSE FINANCE 519
03/19/2010 01:30 PM House FINANCE
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HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 48 Urging the United States Congress to pass the Crime Victims Fund Preservation Act. 1:37:56 PM HANNA MCCARTY, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE BETH KERTULLA, SPONSOR, explained that for more than twenty years, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) fund has provided grants to state victim assistance programs to fund services to more than four million victims of all types of crimes. She relayed that no one chooses to be a victim of crime, but when a crime does occur, victims deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. For victims, fairness includes restoring health, safety, and well-being. Without the VOCA funding and the direct services it supports, crime victims go without advocacy, medical and mental health, and legal services. Ms. McCarty asked for support in efforts to raise the cap on the fund in order to ensure that VOCA assistance grants continue to support vital services. SAMANTHA ENGLISHOE, FIRST ALASKANS INSTITUTE FELLOW, OFFICE OF REPRESENTATIVE BETH KERTULLA, SPONSOR, informed the committee that the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 created the VOCA fund as a protected and dedicated source of funding for crime victims' programs. The fund is not financed by taxpayer revenue but by a collection of fines, forfeitures, and other penalties paid by federal criminal offenders. Each year VOCA dollars are distributed to states to support two important types of programs: crime victim compensation programs, which reimburse victims for crime-related expenses; and victim assistant programs, which provide victims with direct support and guidance in the aftermath of crime. The fund is comprised of offender penalties and fines, and the amount of deposits into the fund fluctuates from year to year. In 2000, Congress started capping annual obligations from the fund, saving the amount collected over the cap to ensure the fund's stability. Ms. Englishoe continued that the VOCA fund has a current accumulated balance of nearly $3 billion. Under the VOCA statutory formula for the annual distribution of funds, state assistant grants are dependant on the size of the cap and the amount available for those grants is whatever remains after other programs have been funded. Unless the cap is high enough, state VOCA assistance grants are cut as other VOCA-dependent costs increase and new under-the-cap programs and earmarks are added. Despite unprecedented deposits into the fund, inadequate caps led to severe cutbacks in VOCA's victim assistance grants from 2006 to 2008, causing a devastating impact on programs providing direct services to crime victims. However, at the same time as the state victim assistant grants were cut by $87 million (22 percent), the fund grew more than $700 million. The balance would have been available for direct services if the cap minimum had been higher. 1:42:14 PM Ms. Englishoe maintained that under the Crime Victims Fund Preservation Act, the VOCA statute would establish minimum funding levels for fiscal years 2010 through 2014, steadily drawing down a portion of the accumulated balance. The Office of Management and Budget has projected that the fund will have a balance of at least $1.3 billion at the end of 2014 even with the minimum caps. The fund would be sustainable and would not need other revenue sources. Ms. Englishoe cited strong state support for the Crime Victims Fund Preservation Act, including by the Department of Health and Social Services, the Department of Public Safety, Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan, and U.S. Congressman Don Young. In addition, representatives from the state Violent Crimes Compensation Board and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault were supportive. Representative Gara voiced support for the measure. Co-Chair Stoltze noted the absence of testimony from Victims for Justice. GERAD GODFREY, CHAIR, VIOLENT CRIMES COMPENSATION BOARD (via teleconference), spoke in support of the legislation. He referred to a letter of support for the resolution from the board (copy on file). He underlined the value of providing assistance in the recovery and rehabilitation process to innocent victims of violent crime. He noted the cost benefit to society, as counseling and intervention often serves as prevention in the next generation. Assistance often empowers victims to remain or become productive members of society. 1:47:07 PM Co-Chair Stoltze acknowledged the work of the board. He referred to the zero fiscal impact note. Co-Chair Hawker MOVED to report HJR 48 out of Committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal note. There being NO OBJECTION, it was so ordered. HJR 48 was REPORTED out of Committee with a "do pass" recommendation and with attached new fiscal note by the Legislative Affairs Agency.