DOVER — The state remains committed to assisting victims of violent crimes, which was re-affirmed on the last night of lawmaking at Legislative Hall last Monday night.
With a 17-4 Senate vote, House Bill 408 steamrolled through the process as legislators were just settling in for an eventual marathon session. The House of Representatives had supported the language surrounding the Victims’ Compensation Assistance Program with a 40-0 vote on June 24.
According to primary sponsor Rep. James “JJ” Johnson, D-New Castle, the bill clarified existing language regarding victims recovering funds from offenders, and the state’s ability to receive reimbursements from victims compensated through other avenues.
The bill’s synopsis included, “Section 4 ... is intended to clarify the authority of VCAP to claim reimbursement from the victim, claimant, or dependents for payments received from collateral sources (other than life insurance).”
Rep. Johnson said that since victims’ assistance was changed in 2009 from board to AG office oversight, and increase in claims has evolved. The state is still ready to assist victims, but the Victims’ Assistance Compensation Program fund should be only seen as the resource of last resort.
“We want to make sure that the fund stays solvent,” Rep. Johnson said.
The legislation continued a push by the Delaware Attorney General’s office to assist victims recovering from severe and violent crimes, the program’s executive director Lisa Borin Ogden said.
“This legislation affirms Delaware criminal courts’ longstanding practice of ordering convicted offenders to repay the Victims’ Compensation Assistance Program for financial compensation it has provided to those offenders’ victims,” Ms. Ogden said.
“It continues Attorney General Biden’s efforts to stand for victims and ensure that they receive the support they need to recover from their crime and rebuild their lives.”
The AG’s office worked with representatives convened and chaired by the Delaware Court system, including Superior, Common Pleas, and Family Court to help produce HB 408.
Paying close attention, Rep. Johnson, who was joined by co-sponsor Rep. Stephanie Bolden, D-Wilmington and additional sponsor Sen. Nicole Poore, D-Bear, in turning the issues into defined legislation.
“I’ve attended meetings with the attorney general and listened to how the program is challenged,” Rep. Johnson said. “Legislative help was needed to maintain certain support for victims of violent crimes.”
In 2013, there were 1,333 applications submitted to the VCAP for help, and 77 percent were approved. That led to awards of $2,568,370 to victims and their families. Top payout categories included: medical and dental, $952,482; lost wages, $399,007; funeral and burial, $205,510; mental health - $355,805; moving and relocation - $306,986.
According to the AG’s office, the program’s average monthly expenditures in 2013 were $268,570, compared to $166,417 in revenue.
Victims’ involved in a statutory recovery may have the process waived under certain hardship conditions. According to the synopsis, “In cases of extreme hardship, such as where the victim faces outstanding bills and future losses that exceed the net recovery from collateral sources, the VCAP director may waive all or part of the statutory recovery.”
Rep. Johnson has been a prime mover in protecting the fund’s monetary punch, sponsoring 2013 legislation that required that judges attach fees to the final outcome of violent crime convictions.
VCAP funds are generated through an 18 percent surcharge levied on all criminal offenses, including motor vehicle offenses. Additional funds come from restitution paid by offenders, probation interest, subrogation reimbursements and a federal grant.
During Fiscal Year 2013, VCAP received $1,270,000 in federal funds.
With the legislation, VCAP will present to the Court an affidavit and supporting material documenting the amount paid to, or on behalf of, a victim.
Also, a hearing restitution hearing will be scheduled upon a defendants’ request, overseen by the sentencing judge. The Court can order restitution payable to VCAP, if there is no objection, based on the affidavit and supporting documentation.
Staff writer Craig Anderson can be reached at 741-8296 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DSNAnderson on Twitter.