Monday, March 25, 2013

Improving Access to Victim Services

By Senator Roderick D. Wright (D-South Los Angeles)

Last year I was proud to author Senate Bill 1299, a measure designed to simplify the administration of crime victim compensation program in California. Our hope was to help create an efficient system to ensure that those who have already been victims in their lives are not revictimized by the state, being made to jump through hoops to get the counseling and compensation they need and rightfully deserve.

The bill sailed out of both houses without a single "no" vote.
I am happy to say this was a cause the often-divided Legislature was able to rally around in a bipartisan fashion, as the bill sailed out of both houses without a single “no” vote.

Developed in cooperation with victim support groups and the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, SB 1299 makes several important changes in the administration of compensation for crime victims.

First, it clarifies the law to specifically allow for a social worker to file on behalf of a victim of child abuse or elder abuse who is unable to file on his or her own. It also allows for-profit providers to provide mental health services to victims and adds mental health care to the list of services for which the Board will reimburse costs within 90 days of a claim.

SB 1299 increased the CalVCP application filing period threefold.
Perhaps most importantly, SB 1299 extends the filing period to submit a victim compensation application. Victims previously had one year from the date of the crime, the date they turned 18, or the date that -- through ordinary diligence – they could have discovered an injury or death had been sustained as a result of the crime to file a claim. Under this bill, they now have three years.

It is amazing how quickly a year can pass by as you deal with trauma and complex emotions in the immediate aftermath of a crime, meaning those most in need of these services are the same people who could miss the opportunity to file for redress under the previous shorter deadline.

My thanks to the VCGCB, Crime Victims United of California and our many partners for working with me to remove obstacles to needed care for California crime victims. It is my great hope that our compensation system will become a model of fairness and excellence which is replicated nationwide.

Senator Roderick D. Wright was elected to the California State Senate in 2008, representing what was then the 25th District, and re-elected in 2012 to the 35th District. Senator Wright was appointed to chair the Governmental Organization Committee and has been recognized for his work in the areas of public safety, education, energy and utilities, small business, family law and consumer privacy. He has also been voted legislator of the year by the County of Los Angeles, the California Small Business Association, the Municipal Power Association and the California Probation Officers Association.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Victims Have Rights, Too!

By Kimberly Buchholz and Mariam El-Menshawi, Directors of the Victims of Crime Resource Center

California victims of crime are underserved. Too often, victims are unaware of their rights, the methods of exercising those rights, and the locations of services available to them at the state and community levels. Concern for the plight of victims by the state legislature, local governments, and private organizations has increased both awareness of, and ready access to, much-needed assistance for crime victims. Nevertheless, when people become victimized by crime they are often unaware of their rights, and are unfamiliar with the services that are available to them to help address the trauma and cost of victimization. Since the passage of Proposition 9, also known as Marsy’s Law, in 2008, it is even more critical that victims are made aware of their rights. The novel nature of Marsy’s Law has required victim service providers to seek assistance with legal issues.

Through its toll-free 1-800-VICTIMS phone number, victims who might otherwise go unserved can learn of their legal rights and access valuable programs and community resources.
The Victims of Crime Resource Center thus fills an important role. Through its toll-free 1-800-VICTIMS phone number, victims who might otherwise go unserved can learn of their legal rights and access valuable programs and community resources. The Center provides victims with free legal information for ensuring better access to the criminal and juvenile justice systems. The Center also offers free legal research to victim service providers. In addition to the 1-800-VICTIMS line, the Center operates the website. The website includes up-to-date information on statewide victims’ rights issues, legal matters, and a myriad of victims’ rights publications. Additionally, the website contains a comprehensive statewide list of referrals to local resources. These include victims’ assistance resources, including legal and medical services, domestic violence shelters, financial assistance, counseling services, and victims’ support groups.

As part of our “Know Your Rights” campaign, the Center conducts regular presentations for the Sacramento Food Bank, the Mexican Consulate, domestic violence shelters, and local schools. The Center educates the community on everything from Marsy’s Law to identity theft to domestic violence to cyber bullying. The Center’s goal is to not only prevent victimization, but also to raise awareness that all victims in California have rights in our criminal and juvenile justice systems.

Kimberly Buchholz (right) and Mariam El-Menshawi direct the Victims of Crime Resource Center, operating since 1984 at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. In addition to operating the toll-free 1-800-VICTIMS phone line and, the Center also provides free legal representation to victims whose cases are located in Sacramento County. The Center is a project of the California Emergency Management Agency