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A proposed amendment to the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund divided the Senate Tuesday, but not necessarily on party lines.
The fund is used to reimburse innocent victims of crime who have suffered personal injury and who have incurred out-of-pocket losses as a result of a criminal act.
Currently, the state is compensating property owners from the fund who have to clean up illegal meth labs after renting or leasing their space.
Republican Senator Mitch Carmichael said the account is suffering because of the lab clean up costs.
“Any money that we spend to compensate victims of crime for assault, battery, the injuries that results from that, the state of West Virginia is reimbursed 60 cents on a dollar, but for crime related to meth lab clean up, the federal reimburses West Virginia zero. Nothing. As a result of that, our Crime Victim’s compensation Fund has been depleted from approximately $6 million down the reports say to around $2 million.”
Democratic Senator Brooks McCabe, a real estate agent, disagreed with Carmichael’s assessment and opposed the amendment.
“These property owners are in fact injured. This is not something that is covered by their insurance. Depending on the unit, that unit in all probability is uninhabitable. They have to put notice into the county. They’ve got to remediate and clean it up and it is clearly a cost well exceeding $8-10,000. In many cases, it makes the unit uninhabitable on a permanent basis unless the property is remediated. From my perspective a majority of these property owners are not in the position to fund this out of their assets which mean that by not helping them in compensate the damage done to them as a victim you are in essence taking out, removing the housing stock, just the kind of housing stock that we want to have that’s affordable for our residents.”
Republican Senator Clark Barnes stood to back McCabe’s position, saying just because West Virginia is the only state offering property owners compensation in these instances doesn’t mean the state is wrong in doing so.
“Monday we heard the report from the Crime Victim’s Fund of how the cleanup has grown in the last year. With the passage of Senate Bill 6, it’s the belief of many that we have made headway in cutting into the meth labs. Now, if we truly believe that we are cutting into the meth labs, it’s somewhat hypocritical to vote on the one hand that we’re for Senate Bill 6 and then we’re for the amendment offered by the Senator.”
Carmichael, however, stuck to his view that the aid was preventing the state from doing good for other deserving victims.
“From a priority perspective we don’t have unlimited money. That’s what we do here, we set priorities with limited amounts of funds and so to the extent that we’re going to say a person who was clubbed on the street and suffers enormous economic damage from that could potentially not be compensated because we’re paying a landlord to clean up a meth lab. For those reasons, I think a simple priority perspective and saying that you can cook meth in your property, the landlord doesn’t have to pay that degree of diligence, that there is a state back up for that.”
On a voice vote, the amendment was narrowly adopted. Senate Bill 204, relating to crime victims compensation awards, will be put to a vote by the full chamber Wednesday.