A task evaluating the Delaware’s Victims’ Bill of Rights for the first time since it was established in 1992 will hear recommendations about how to improve it Monday, Feb. 12.
The current document is an unwieldy, jumbled mess because of all the hands that have been in the code since then, said Scott Goss, communications director for the Senate Democrats.
Bipartisan Senate Concurrent Resolution 99, passed in June 2023, called for the formation of a bipartisan committee to revise the bill “and make it clear, concise and efficient,” Goss said.
Since September, subcommittees have focused on updating the bill’s definitions, notification procedures, funding and technology.
Victims’ rights include being treated with respect and compassion; notified, informed and involved in the criminal justice process; and protected from harm and intimidation.
It also includes financial and community support for victims.
Since 1992, the understanding of consent, healthy relationships and victim safety has evolved, as does overall understanding of trauma and the cycle of abuse.
“It is critical to ensure that the Victims’ Bill of Rights is updated to include best practices for supporting the recovery of all victims, especially victims who experience trauma,” said SC99, written by Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, D-Brandywine Hundred.
Compensation and Administration Subcommittee Chair Rep. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said finding ways to increase awareness of the Victims’ Compensation Fund is one recommendation that will be presented to the committee Monday.
A periodic review by legislators of the funding for the Victims’ Compensation Fund’s long-term solvency will also be recommended.
Pettyjohn said a solvency review would make sure legislative actions in one area don’t affect funding for victims.
For example, there has been a push to eliminate fines and fees from certain crimes, such as toll violations and tickets from traffic cameras.
“Things like the Victims’ Compensation Fund are funded through those types of additional fees,” Pettyjohn said.
Eliminating the fines and fees would hurt the victims’ fund’s long term solvency, he said.
Exploration of the viability and scope of property restitutions will also be suggested.
“That could quickly deplete funds just because of the sheer volume of them,” Pettyjohn said.
His committee will recommend assessing the administration of Victims’ Compensation Assistance Program to determine if there is enough staff to process victim applications in a timely manner.
With only two staff members, “iIt is a very leanly staffed unit in the attorney general’s office,” Pettyjohn said.
His committee also will recommend asking the executive branch to appoint members to the Victims’ Compensation Advisory Council.
“All of the members’ terms have expired without new people put on the council,” Pettyjohn said.
A stricter formula to assess the value of loss wages is needed, Pettyjohn said
Currently, the executive director of the Victims’ Compensation Fund decides the value of lost wages on a case by case basis.
His committee believes a flat rate definition should be used instead.
There also needs to be a clear understanding between the Victims’ Compensation Advisory Council and the Delaware State Funeral Association on what the victim funds cover, Pettyjohn said.
The subcommittee recommendations are not guaranteed to be in the full committee’s final suggestions, Pettyjohn pointed out.
The committee, chaired by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, will send its final report to legislators March 1.
“After that, it is up to legislators to make changes,” Goss said.
Listen to the subcommittee recommendations at 10:30 a.m. Monday by registering here.
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