Thousands of people turn to state victim compensation programs each year for help with funeral costs, medical bills or other expenses after becoming the victim of a violent crime.
The programs disburse millions of dollars, but The Associated Press found racial inequities and other barriers in how claims are denied in many states.
Legislatures in more than half of U.S. states have passed measures to improve their programs in recent years. Victims who have been denied compensation have largely driven the changes and are advocating for a federal overhaul of compensation guidelines that officials at the U.S. Office for Victims of Crime confirm is underway.
Here is a look at those states and the changes they’ve made, plus tips for localizing the story.
STATES THAT HAVE RECENTLY PASSED REFORMS
The AP examined reforms being made around the country and found a range of changes: A victim’s criminal history is no longer an automatic disqualifier in Illinois. The time limit to apply for help was increased from three to seven years in California. In Michigan, the cap on aid will nearly double to $45,000 this year and more people like caretakers of crime victims will be eligible for survivor benefits.
This is the list of states that have passed reforms in the past three years. Click here to view a summary of the changes we found. Use the bill numbers to search for the full text of these laws on your state’s legislative website.
Arizona (HB 2132- 2022)
California (AB 200, 2022; AB 160, 2022)
Colorado (HB 1315, 2021; SB 292, 2021)
Connecticut (HB 5001, 2022)
Delaware (HB182, 2021)
DC (D.C. Law 24-341, 2022)
Indiana (HB 1292, 2022)
Illinois (HB 3653, 2021; HB 3295, 2021)
Kansas (HB 2574, 2022; HB 2077, 2021)
Kentucky (SB 378, 2022)
Louisiana (HB 648, 2022)
Maryland (HB 425, 2020)
Michigan (HB 4674, 2022; HB 4675, 2022)
Montana (HB 211, 2021-2022)
Nebraska (LB 372, 2021; LB 497, 2021)
New Hampshire (HB 1235, 2022; HB 576, 2022)
New Jersey (S 498, 2020)
New York (A 7502, 2022; A 7489, 2022; S 8005C, 2022)
North Carolina (HB 560, 2022)
Ohio (SB 36, 2021; SB 288, 2021)
Oklahoma (SB 16, 2021)
Pennsylvania (HB 2464, 2022 — Act 77)
South Dakota (SB 44, 2020)
Tennessee (HB 870, 2021)
Texas (SB 957, 2021)
Utah (HB 228, 2022)
Vermont (HB 553, 2022)
Virginia (HB 988, 2020; HB 1867, 2021)
Washington (SB 6181, 2020)
West Virginia (HB 4307, 2022; HB 4308, 2022)
STATES THAT PREVIOUSLY MADE REFORMS OR ARE CONSIDERING THEM NOW
More than a dozen other states had previously passed changes to their victim compensation programs. For example, in 2019, New Mexico passed a change allowing for alternatives to police reporting. Also in 2019, Florida extended its timeline to apply from one to three years, Louisiana passed a bill removing convictions-based restrictions, and Texas added an allowable expense for relocation costs for children who were the victims of a murder attempt. But we also found changes searching back to 2010 (searches of earlier bills were harder on some legislative websites).
To find out if your state has made reforms over the past decade, search your legislative website. But before you get started, read the annual reports for your state’s victims compensation program. Some states like Texas and Alabama include legislative histories in their reports. You may want to also talk to an administrator at the program to ask about what changes they’ve made or what changes they are working on. When it comes to searching the actual legislative websites, they are all very different with their own quirks, but here are some basic tips:
— Use keywords for the name of the program from the annual reports.
— Make sure the bill actually became law, searching for words like “enrolled,” “approved,” “signed by governor,” “chaptered.” If the last action on the bill was referred to committee or it passed only one house, it hasn’t become law.
— Read the text of the bill for an effective date. In some cases, the date the bill was signed is different from when it goes into effect.
— Some states allow you to search all the laws passed in a session, sometimes noted on the site as “session laws.” Searching here could point you to new laws as well.
— If you see bills that haven’t passed, you could check with the sponsors about what hurdles it faced, why it didn’t pass, whether they’ll reintroduce it in the future. Lawmakers could share details about what organizations and advocates pushed the bill, giving you more resources to find victims to speak to.
— Many states have annotated laws, which could tell you when a law was changed, and give you a picture of how the legislature changed the program over time.
Some states have pending bills — search for those too. Those will be available in the current session, and searching by keyword is often the best way to go. Maryland, for example, has a proposed bill to overhaul its program sponsored by a Baltimore legislator, but it hasn’t moved out of committee. Arizona has a bill under consideration to fund an alternative victim program called a pilot trauma recovery center — which would operate outside of victims compensation, includes fewer eligibility hurdles and red tape, and does not work on the same slow reimbursement model.
Use the information above to add context about your state to AP’s national story. Ideas for taking your reporting further:
— Search the legislative record for victims who testified as witnesses in committees reviewing the bills, to talk to real people.
— Ask the bill’s sponsors (the legislators) what organizations worked with them to write the bills and reach out to those groups to ask about why the fix was necessary. If it didn’t pass, ask what they hope to do in the future.
— A handful of states passed bills with sweeping changes across categories. Data to see the effect of those changes should start being available soon, but is worth keeping an eye on. The U.S. Office for Victims of Crime released its annual 2022 state compensation reports recently, and those can tell you if the changes have had an effect on the number of applications (some states had a goal of increasing participation) or the number and percent of people denied, or the reasons for denials (in cases where they restricted the use of behavioral denials). Right now, you can get three years’ worth of reports online at the OVC website, and earlier years are available through a FOIA request.
— Dozens of state legislatures have passed measures to improve their victims compensation programs: Table showing the categories of victims compensation program reforms passed by state legislatures from 2020–2022.
— New Jersey saw reduced disparity after passing reforms: Bar chart showing the Black share of victims compensation program applications and the Black share of denials in New Jersey between 2018–2022.
OTHER STORIES IN THIS SERIES
UPDATED: PREVIOUS GUIDE WITH EXCLUSIVE DATA
Read our previous Localize It guide about the AP’s extensive analysis that found Black victims are more likely to be denied by victim compensation programs in many states, and almost three times as likely to be denied because of reasons that put a magnifying glass on their actions before or after they’ve been victimized. ((NOTE: We updated the data in the guide to include the last quarter of 2021, which made it possible to look at the full 2021 year in every state. The percentages also reflect the changes. If you use the first story in print, the update changed the number of states with disproportionate denials of Black applicants to 18 out of 23, from 19 out of 23.))
Localize It is an occasional feature produced by The Associated Press for its customers’ use. Questions can be directed to Katie Oyan at firstname.lastname@example.org.