Knowles vetoes victims' rights bill

Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles vetoed a bill creating a state office of victims' rights, saying it would create more bureaucracy instead of helping crime victims.

Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. Rick Halford, would have established a victims' advocacy agency within the Department of Law to guide crime victims through the legal process and investigate victims' complaints about the justice system. It passed the Legislature unanimously.

''Although described as an offer to assist crime victims, the approach taken in this bill is inefficient and will only serve to create more bureaucracy rather than put money and resources into direct aid to crime victims,'' Knowles wrote Thursday in his veto letter.

''Several state and private programs already address victims' concerns. We need to explore how to improve those existing services and provide them at a local level, where the victims are.''

Halford, R-Chugiak, sponsored the bill as a way to implement a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1994 that guarantees the rights of crime victims.

''I'm actually shocked that he would veto something that passed the Legislature unanimously and had such strong support in the victim community,'' said Halford. ''Victims who feel that they're further victimized by the criminal justice system would have had professional help but for Tony Knowles' veto pen, and that's a shame.''

The program would have been paid for by Permanent Fund dividends forfeited by repeat criminals.

Knowles cited opposition to the bill from victims' advocacy groups, including Victims for Justice, a group Halford had counted among the bill's supporters.

''It is my position the funding necessary to establish and maintain a rather large, expensive state bureaucracy would be better spent on direct victims' services,'' wrote Cathryn Wells, executive director of Victims for Justice.

Halford accused Knowles of courting support for the veto among leaders of the state's victims' groups that had supported the bill. Wells did not immediately return a telephone call on Thursday afternoon.

The bill received enough votes in the Legislature to override the veto. However, the current Legislature will not have an opportunity for an override unless a special session is called before the November election.

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