Victims panel to be revamped

Measure awaiting Markell’s signature aims to streamline assistance procedures

By GINGER GIBSON — Thursday, July 2, 2009
The News Journal

Legislation to reform the Violent Crimes Compensation Board, a state commission charged with providing financial assistance to victims of violent crime, unanimously passed the state Senate early Wednesday morning, less than two weeks after an identical bill died in a Senate committee.

The bill now goes to Gov. Jack Markell for his signature.

House Bill 253 institutes changes to the oversight board, which had been criticized by victims and advocates for its cumbersome procedures and handling of claims, which they said discourage people from applying for assistance and or receiving it in a timely manner.

Patty D’Angelo, a Wilmington resident who faced a list of problems when dealing with the board after seeking assistance after she was the victim of domestic violence waited until 1:30 a.m. to see the bill approved by the Senate.

D’Angelo became an advocate when the problems with the board was brought to the attention of the Legislature.

“It was worth it,” D’Angelo said.

The legislation changes the board’s purpose from making decisions about financial compensation for crime victims to simply serving as an appeals board that reviews decisions made by its staff.

The changes also move the staff to the supervision of the Department of Justice, rather than have it report solely to the board, and changes the way board members are compensated — replacing their $10,000-to-$12,000 salaries with the state’s standard rate of $100 per meeting, for the board’s weekly meetings, and eliminating for future members the state pensions that current board members receive.

And, in what advocates called a symbolic move, the legislation renames the board to be the Victims’ Compensation Assistance Program, to put the focus on victims and not the perpetrators.