by David Safier
Victims' rights groups held a rally in Tucson today to protest possible cuts to the Arizona Crime Victims fund.
This is all new to me, so let me give you some background, assuming it's new to you as well. If I get something wrong, please let me know.
Fees and fines from criminals in Arizona go into a state fund controlled by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (AZCJC). The money is used to compensate crime victims for some of their expenses. It can go for things like cleaning up a crime scene, helping to cover the costs of hospitals and funerals, and so on. This is a very good thing.
What makes it even better is that it's all what Mary Marshall, Public Information Officer for the AZCJC, refers to as "Bad Guy Money." It doesn't cost us a cent. Added to that, the Feds match 60 cents of every dollar from their own Bad Guy Fund (I'm sure there's a more formal name, but I can't imagine a better one.)
According to Marshall, the Arizona state budget for the 2008 fiscal year (that covers 2007-2008) was hurting because the revenue was lower than forecast. So at the beginning of 2008, the legislature passed a budget fix bill. One of the fixes was to take $2 million from the $4 million Crime Victims fund. (These are dedicated funds, but not voter protected funds, so the legislature has the right to grab them.)
Marshall wouldn't pin the blame on either party, but with the Dems pretty well shut out of the budgeting process, it's not hard to figure out where the fund sweep originated.
Victims rights groups fear they'll fall victim to the same kind of budget sweep in the 2010 budget, and they know if they wait until the legislation is written, it'll be too late. The legislature might replace some of the money with Stimulus funds, but since those will run out in a year or two, that would just be a way of masking their plan to steal money from victims' compensation. Hence the rally.
According to my source, about 75-80 people showed up, including many officials who wanted to show their support for preserving the fund. Among the speakers were Vice Mayor Karen Uhlich, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, Assistant Attorney General Vince Rabago, Senator Paula Aboud and representatives of victims rights groups.
Apparently, Arizona has been a leader in the victims' rights movement for the past 18 years, even putting a Victims Bill of Rights into the State Constitution. Republicans who run the legislature are famously anti-crime. We may soon find out if they're also pro-victim, or if they'll tell people whose lives have been turned upside down through no fault of their own, "Sorry, we can't afford to help."