House Ways and Means General Fund Committee chair Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, speaks during the session of the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission may soon receive money from the General Fund. Just not the amount it hoped for.
The House-passed General Fund budget gives the agency $500,000 during the current Legislative session, far less than the $5 million the commission sought.
“The governor had recommended $100,000, and I had increased that to $500,000 based on the available revenue receipts that I had in the budget,” said Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, the chair of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee. “We did it from the General Fund because I think that is going to be a line item that we will probably have to come back and deal with probably again next year.”
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The Commission has been speaking with legislators for the past several weeks requesting additional funding to fund its operations and provide money for victims of violent crimes and their families. The agency has struggled to hire staff, and is dealing with a backlog of applications from victims.
The agency currently receives almost all its funding from traffic fines, court fees, and victim assessment fees.
Those revenues are in decline. In 2012, the Commission generated about $5.3 million in revenues in 2012, taking in about $1 million each from court fees and restitution. By 2021, the revenues declined to $4.5 million, with only $860,000 coming in from city court fees, $830,000 from country court costs and $760,000 from victim assessment fees.
Frustrations with the agency culminated in a protest by Faith in Action Alabama back in February, with advocates visiting the agency seeking updates for their clients.
Some said they have not heard from the agency. Others have had to wait up to a year to receive payment. As the agency’s fiscal situation worsens, commissioners started to consider additional options for receiving revenues this year.
Commissioners began approaching lawmakers for a General Fund allocation this year and got a favorable reception from Reynolds and other legislators.
But Everette Johnson, executive director of the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission, said the current allocation only meets a portion of the overall need.
“We are appreciative of Rep. Reynolds’ work on that, but it is not going to be enough to take care of our immediate needs,” he said. “We are needing money from the special appropriations fund for immediate needs, not just the General Fund’s line item.”
The $100,000 recommended by the governor is the same amount that the agency has always received from the legislature but is a pass through that has already been earmarked for use by Victims of Crime and Leniency.
“The supplemental is emergency funding to help us get caught up and get ahead,” Johnson said. “The General Fund line item, we are grateful for their work on that, but we are working to increase that as well.”
Muaath Al-Khattab, a community organizer with Faith in Action Alabama, said the group supports the funding offered to the commission.
“I thought it was a positive move that the General Fund will give them some money,” he said.
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The additional $400,000 will go to victims for compensation, Johnson said. It will not be able to pay for staff needs or update the facilities or technology. It could also be used to pay for exams for sexually based offenses.
Commissioners, along with Johnson, had asked for $5 million to hire temporary staff to deal with the backlog of claims. The commission also planned to update the claims management system and fix air conditioning units at the facility.
Reynolds said he thought the commission’s struggles were a “temporary problem.”
“As you know, our court systems were closed down for about a year and a half in many locations throughout Alabama, and therefore they were not getting those fees in the judicial process,” he said. “I think once we ramp back up those fees will start again.”
Johnson and commissioners continue to speak with legislators about additional funding.
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