Bill Would Extend Deadlines to Ensure Compassion for Victims
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Loretta Weinberg which would make extend certain deadlines for victims of violent crime and their families to apply to the State program to compensate them for their losses was approved by the Senate and Assembly yesterday, receiving final legislative approval.
“In New Jersey, when crime is perpetrated on an innocent individual, we have a mechanism to help make that person or their grieving family members whole,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “While the Victims of Crime Compensation Office has helped victims and their families pick up the pieces over the last forty years, the law’s strict filing deadlines sometimes limit the agency’s effectiveness. By giving recovering victims and grieving families more time to file for benefits, we’re allowing the promise of the VCCO to be realized.”
The bill, S-1979, would make various changes to the Victims of Crime Compensation law that governs restitution to the victims of crime and their families in the Garden State. Under the bill, the deadline to file benefits in the case of personal injury or death for victims or their dependents would be extended from two years to three years, and the victim or their next of kin would have had to file a police report within nine months of the crime, as opposed to the three-month standard under the current law.
In addition to the filing deadline, the bill also extends payment for expenses incurred as a result of the crime to ten years, from five years in the original law. And the bill allows minors who’ve been affected by crime to apply within three years of their 18th birthday, rather than three years from the crime.
The Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO) is responsible for administering the mission of the providing compensation to the innocent victims of violent crime for some of the expenses they incur as a result of the crime. Compensation benefits may be awarded up to a maximum of $25,000 per claim, and are funded by a surcharge on criminal offenders. In FY 2011, the Office awarded approximately $9.7 million in compensation, including $4.95 million for medical / dental expenses; $2.72 million for economic loss; $1.27 million for funeral / burial expenses; and $710,000 for counseling.
“This bill is about treating the victims of crime and their families with compassion, respect and fairness,” said Senator Weinberg. “Through the VCCO, we can help reimburse crime victims for at least a portion of the costs they incur as a result of their victimization. Under this legislation, we’re making sure that more people will be able to take advantage of the benefits offered to help compensate innocent victims of crime.”
The bill was approved by a vote of 38-0 in the Senate, and 69-2 in the Assembly. It now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.