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Legislators open to General Fund appropriation for Crime Victims Compensation Commission

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Legislators open to General Fund appropriation for Crime Victims Compensation Commission

Mar 15, 2023 | 9:00 am ET
By Ralph Chapoco
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Legislators open to General Fund appropriation for Crime Victims Compensation Commission
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Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee chair, discusses a bill allocating $1 billion in money from the American Rescue Plan Act on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives on March 14, 2023. The House approved the bill. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission is turning to the General Fund for a stable source of funding after years of relying solely on fines and fees to support its operations.

Commissioners and staff are approaching lawmakers seeking monetary support to compensate victims and fund its operations, as applicants say they face long wait times and limited communications from agency. 

“The financial situation has been serious for quite some time,” said Kim Martin, the interim executive director for the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission, in an interview Monday. “Certainly, in conversations I have had with the previous director, we have discussed it, but I do remember at the December commission meeting having a very serious discussion about the state of the commission’s finances and the need to seek out additional funding.”

Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, the chair of the House Ways and Means General Fund committee, said Tuesday he was open to the idea.

“I do think it is something that we need to take seriously,” he said. “I go back to the governor’s comments in her speech about spending money today to make a better Alabama tomorrow. Well, this is a prime example. We got victims who need to get compensated, and I think it is a line item we will take very seriously.”

The commission does not currently receive any allocation from the General Fund for either its operations or the claims that victims, or their families, file. Instead, it gets its money exclusively from fines and fees, as well as restitution. 

The agency receives a portion of costs assessed paid by people involved in the court system, moving violations and victim assessment fees. 

Those revenues have continued to decline. According to the report the agency published for fiscal year 2012, it took in about $5.3 million. The agency received more than $1 million each from the city court fees, county court fees and restitution. 

By 2021, the Commission reported that its revenues had declined to $4.5 million. It received almost $860,000 from city court fees, $830,000 from the county courts and about $760,000 from victim assessment fees. 

With the shortfall, the commission has decreased the maximum thresholds it pays to victims and their families, and reduced staff who manage the claims process.

The staffing and revenue shortfalls have led to longer waits for victims and families applying for help with expenses. Those dealing with the commission have become increasingly frustrated with what they view as limited communication from the agency. 

With the situation increasingly more desperate, commissioners are now tapping lawmakers for an allocation to the General Fund. They approached Reynolds at budget hearings on Feb. 23.

“Over the years the fines and fees model did work in the early days, but we have seen, at least in 10 years, how that has dropped off considerably,” said Darlene Hutchinson, a member of the commission, in an interview Monday. “The education budget wasn’t really an option because it doesn’t fit.”

Commissioners said $5 million would allow them to hire staff and increase compensation for victims.

Other legislators said they were open to the idea.

“I am going to see what Rex Reynolds recommends from the General Fund, and I am certainly going to read everything that he puts out,” Hill said.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, the chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, also said he would consider a line item in an interview Tuesday, though he added that he was trying to keep the budget on “solid ground” amid inflation and the recent banking crisis. 

“I will take a look at that,” he said. “I know they have regular funding through court costs and such. I need to evaluate that some.”

Whether or not the Commission will receive money will depend on the priorities of the legislators tasked with overseeing the budget.

“Have you seen the other agencies’ demands?” Albritton said. “Everyone is going to be considered. Everyone cannot be accommodated.”