Scott cuts funding for rape crisis centers during Sexual Assault Awareness Month
On April 17, smack in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $1.5 million for the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence. The Legislature allotted the funds to the organization in order to support 30 rape crisis centers as they face impending reductions in collections, which currently is the bulk of their budgets.
The cut to the Florida Council was just one of the many health projects that Scott used his line-item veto power to eliminate from this year’s $70 billion budget.
Jennifer Dritt, the executive director of the Florida Council, says she is “stunned” the funding was cut. She says the line-item was “new money” meant to ease the reduction in collections that rape crisis centers are facing.
According to the group’s website, due to legislation passed in 2003,
a $151 fine on certain convicted offenders is designated to this trust fund; however, significant revenue from this fine is not likely to be generated for several years. General revenue is needed to ensure that rape crisis centers are able to provide the basic services that most victims of sexual assault need. Victims of sexual assault can’t wait for offenders to be convicted and pay before they receive basic services.
Due to Florida’s recent economic problems, these collections continue to decrease. Dritt says that now, more than most years, the centers were in need of extra funding from the state.
Dritt says the individual centers could lose $30,000-$100,000, depending on their size.
Mostly, Dritt says, she is “confused.” The line-item met Scott’s criteria of being a statewide expenditure and was not identified as a “turkey” by Florida Tax Watch this year. Being included on Tax Watch’s list is typically a grim omen for any line-item.
“There must be some kind of disconnect,” Dritt says. According to her, “1.2 million women in Florida already have been victimized” and the funding would have helped the centers “double” the number of services they offer and the number of victims they serve.
Dritt says the program was “thoroughly vetted” in the Legislature and had the support of state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Heathrow. According to her, the program “met the criteria” set forth by the governor for member projects.
“We are disappointed,” Dritt says. “We are really surprised and frankly stunned — [and] are trying to figure out what the heck happened.”
According to Dritt, she sent an email to the governor’s office explaining what the line-item would fund and had two short phone calls with someone in the governor’s office about the money. She says Scott’s subsequent veto led her to believe that for some reason all the evidence “did not make the state’s needs clear.”
Scott has said publicly that he stands by his vetoes because he believes the programs he eliminated “weren’t a good use of taxpayers’ money and did not serve a statewide need.” He has also said he “gave each project equal and fair consideration.”