BILL TO HELP VICTIMS OF VIOLENT CRIMES MOVES THROUGH SENATE

Legislation sponsored by Senators Jeff Van Drew and John Girgenti to allow innocent victims of violent crimes to receive state compensation benefits – for mental health counseling, medical bill coverage and relocation costs, for example – more than five years after their initial claim for benefits has received final legislative approval. It now heads to the desk of Governor Chris Christie.

The legislation (S-1893) is intended to assist victims who have legitimate reasons to require services more than five years after their initial claim for benefits from the state Victims of Crime Compensation Office, which provides compensation to victims of violent crime for some expenses they suffer as a result of the crime. Currently, victims and their families may only receive compensation for five years, with the clock starting at the time of their first payment.

The legislation would give the VCCO the ability to authorize benefits beyond the five-year limitation when certain compelling circumstances exist.

“Victims of violent crime have faced horrifying ordeals that many of us couldn’t even begin to imagine,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “If special circumstances warrant the coverage of benefits beyond the current five-year limitation, then we should do everything in our power to provide them. On a very basic level, this is about having compassion for our fellow citizens.”

The VCCO was established by the Criminal Injury Compensation Act of 1971 to help alleviate the economic and emotional burdens of victimization, according to information from the state Department of Law and Public Safety.

Compensation is issued to victims – or their families and dependents – of crimes that include assault, rape, murder, manslaughter, human trafficking, hit-and-run accidents, carjacking, robbery, burglary, sexually related crime, kidnapping, domestic violence, drug and food tampering, DWI, and eluding a police officer. The legislation would give the state Victims of Crime Compensation Office discretion to award payments beyond the five-year limit when special circumstances exist.

To receive compensation, state law requires the crime to be reported to police within three months of the commission. A claim application for compensation must be filed with VCCO with within two years.

The Senate approved the bill Monday by a vote of 38-0. The Assembly passed the bill in March by a vote of 76-0.

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