On Friday, April 29, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced his support for seven bills meant to provide protection and care to domestic violence survivors and others impacted by violence.
More Information for Grieving Parents
One of those bills, SB 1268, by Senator Anna Caballero (D-Merced), would ensure that, in the case of a death investigation involving a minor child, law enforcement would be required to provide parents with certain timely information about the investigation. Specifically, the investigating law enforcement agency would have to provide parents with the case number, identify the primary law enforcement contact for the investigation, a list of personal effects found with the victim, and information regarding the status of the case (at the law enforcement agency’s discretion).
The bill has carve-outs that would allow law enforcement to bypass the disclosure of certain information, like the personal effects found on a victim, if it could jeopardize the investigation.
“Existing law fails to ensure that families have the right to adequate information pertaining to the death of their child and the investigation,” Sen. Caballero said, “including the contact information of the investigation officers, and access to personal effects.”
Beyond certain requirements that coroners must fulfill, state law does not currently require police agencies to provide any information to families of victims while investigating a crime.
This bill passed the Senate Floor unanimously and moved on to the Assembly on April 28.
“We can no longer allow the majority of California’s survivors of crime and violence to be ignored and excluded from a system not built to help those who need it most,” said Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, Families suffering the loss of a child should not face hurdles to obtain relevant case information – these unnecessary hurdles only serve to compound the pain and trauma of the sudden loss of a loved one. When we prioritize healing and meeting the needs of all victims of crime— we see a direct, positive impact on safety and wellness in our communities.”
Free Exams for Victims
In cases involving sexual assault, evidence-collecting medical exams are both free and confidential for victims. Under AB 2185, by Assm. Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), victims of domestic violence, too, would receive medical free exams.
The bill would also increase domestic violence survivors’ access to local supports, including social services and child advocacy centers.
Because this bill would have a fiscal impact on the state’s general fund — in this case, of as much as $13.5 million — the Assembly Appropriations Committee sent it to the suspense file. Bills in the suspense file must be heard by the fiscal committees’ May 20 deadline, at which point, bills will either die in the suspense file or move on to either the Senate or Assembly Floor.
Victim Compensation Reforms
SB 993, Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would enact reforms to the way victim compensation is offered and to whom.
Normally compensation is issued through the California Victim Compensation Board. The process is full of lofty requirements and bureaucratic hoops victims must jump through in order to access assistance meant to offset losses suffered as a result of victimization.
SB 993 would launch a pilot program within the Office of Emergency Services (OES) to hopefully streamline compensation. Through the pilot, Flexible Assistance for Survivors of Violence (FASV), grants would be issued to community-based organizations, which would then offer direct cash assistance to survivors.
OES would need to establish a 13-member grant-giving advisory committee, and that committee would establish pilot program rules and issue grants to organizations.
The bill would also increase maximum awards to victims — up to $7,500 for a necessary relocation, $20,000 for funeral and burial expenses, and a total maximum award amount of $100,000.
The bill would also remove requirements that victims cooperate with law enforcement to be eligible for compensation.
Onerous hurdles make survivors less likely to successfully complete the victim assistance application process. Yet supporting survivors is important to community health and safety.
Providing support to victims “increases community safety, improves trust between law enforcement and victims and reduces a victim’s urge to take matters into their hands to ‘get even,’” according to Sen. Skinner’s office. “Yet, this important service is underfunded and governed by statutory language that has prevented many crime survivors from being able to access funds or receive the help needed to recover.”
Research shows that traumatic experiences and toxic stress are connected to a host of life-altering problems, including chronic illness, mental illness, cancer, shorter lifespans, alcoholism and drug use, lower academic achievement, and lost time from work.
This bill has a hearing scheduled in the Senate Appropriations Committee for May 9.
Eviction Protection for Survivors
SB 1017, Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) would protect tenants who experienced domestic violence or other abuse from being displaced by their landlords in response to the violence.
This bill will also be considered by the Senate’s fiscal committee on May 9.
Support for Unhoused Domestic Violence Survivors
SB 914 Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) would ensure that counties that receive state funding to combat homelessness address the needs of domestic violence survivors and service providers into homeless planning and response.
This bill is currently awaiting the Senate Appropriations Committee.
A Coordinated Response
AB 2850, Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) would create a California Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Avisory Council focused on ensuring coordinated and efficient sexual assault intervention at the county level.
This bill next faces a decision in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Saving Victims’ DNA for Later
Although this bill was not among those bills for which AG Bonta announced support, an additional crime survivor-focused bill with a May 9 fiscal committee hearing would ban law enforcement agencies from using sexual assault survivors’ DNA for purposes other than identifying the perpetrator.
SB 1228, by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), was authored in response to a USA Today investigation which revealed that for more than seven years, the SFPD had been cross-checking the DNA of victims, from sexual assault crimes, to violent crimes, to uninvolved individuals — anyone from whom the department had collected DNA during the course of an investigation.
District attorneys and policing experts expressed alarm at the news and described the practice as unheard of among law enforcement agencies.
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin is sponsoring the bill.