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Mr. Chairman, this amendment is a strong amendment, and it puts forth the proposition that victims' issues aren't partisan issues; they're people issues. I strongly support this amendment to increase Legal Assistance for Victims by $4 million. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a lot of money for victims of crime. It will bring the total Legal Assistance for Victims grants to $41 million. This funding is offset by a $4 million reduction from the Department of Commerce--Departmental Management, Salaries and Expenses account. I think that money would be better served in being given to the Legal Assistance for Victims rather than giving raises and salaries to this department.
These legal assistance grants provide much needed funding for domestic violence victims to seek protective orders, child custody, child support, and housing and public benefits assistance.
As I found during my 30 years as a prosecutor and as a judge, too often, domestic violence and sexual assault victims have to appear in court by themselves, alone. They don't have high-dollar lawyers pleading their cases or guiding them through the complex and often burdensome legal system that we have in all of our States and Federal courts. Instead, even though those who supposedly loved them chose to beat them up, they have to pay the price to fight their way through the legal system to request civil protection. This shouldn't be. We need to match civil justice with our criminal justice system.
The Civil Legal Assistance for Victims program provides funding to meet the legal needs of domestic violence and sexual assault victims. It is the only federally funded program designed to meet all of the legal assistance needs of victims. It is one of the most crucial and lifesaving programs in the Violence Against Women Act; yet it remains critically underfunded. The demand for legal services is so high that the Office on Violence Against Women receives almost 300 applications per year, but that office is only able to fund one-third of the total request.
We have a duty to protect the innocent and to make sure their voices are heard in our court system. We must ensure that victims are not further victimized by their abusers through the legal system in this country.
As founder and co-Chair of the bipartisan Victims' Rights Caucus, I support this amendment. I strongly urge its passage.
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