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Lawmakers seek to reinstate funding for sex assault victims

By Tim Damos, News Republic |  Posted: Friday, December 9, 2011
 
A group of lawmakers want the state Department of Justice to reconsider its proposal to slash funding for sexual assault victim services.
 
In a letter Thursday to Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a group of 24 Assembly Republicans requested the DOJ use $2 million from its discretionary spending budget to fully fund the Sexual Assault Victim Services program.
 
"Certainly, this program should be given higher priority than some of the previous expenditures made from this account, such as $3,500 for the purchase of pens and mugs for DOJ employees," the letter stated.
 
The DOJ scaled back the funding for the state's only sexual assault victim services grant program because of budget cuts enacted by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature. Budget lapses and a decrease in fees collected from convicted sexual assault perpetrators also have led to the funding shortage.
 
Agencies that provide the services - such as the Baraboo-based Hope House of South Central Wisconsin - learned this month they would collectively see a 42.5 percent decrease in grant funding from DOJ.
 
In their letter to the DOJ, Assembly Republicans said although cuts to many state agencies are necessary in order to balance the state's budget, sexual assault victim services should be fully funded.
 
"We want to make sure victims of sexual assault receive the services they need," said Rep. Ed Brooks, R-Reedsburg, adding that the case loads of service agencies have increased by more than 100 percent in some places over the last few years.
 
Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, also signed the letter to Van Hollen.
 
Hope House, which serves a five-county area that includes Sauk County, received about $175,000 in funding from the grant source last year, but would see that amount cut to about $100,000 under the DOJ proposal, Hope House Executive Director Ellen Allen said in an interview last week.
 
Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, said although he was not asked to sign the letter to Van Hollen, he too supports restoring funding for the victim services program. However, he said, he does not agree with the proposal to draw the money from the DOJ's discretionary funding budget.
 
"DOJ is a well-run agency that provides important law enforcement and public safety services," Clark said Friday. "Rather than insulting the Attorney General by suggesting that they could provide critical services for sexual assault victims by not buying coffee mugs, this Legislature should make a sufficient appropriation to ensure stable funding for the (victim services) program."
 
Clark said he will work with colleagues on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to introduce such a proposal.