Gov. Rick Scott signed new legislation today that will allocate $1.5 million to pay for relocation services for women who are victims of sexual battery. The bill’s signing comes in the wake of criticism of the governor over his veto of $1.5 million for the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, a group that was going to pass along that funding to 30 rape crisis centers across the state.
The cut was particularly controversial because he signed the veto right in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Scott’s office issued a press release today that says Scott ”signed legislation that will expand the protections available to victims of domestic and sexual violence.”
Along with four other bills, Scott signed House Bill 1355, or Protection of Vulnerable Persons, the governor’s office reports.
Scott’s statement also reiterates the governor’s explanation for the controversial veto, which is that the state already “provides nearly $6.5 million for rape prevention and sexual assault services which is in addition to $29 million available for domestic violence programs.”
The rape crisis centers that lost funding due to Scott’s veto, however, provide counseling and health care services to women who are victims of sexual violence, among other services. The centers are facing a reduction in the collection of fines levied on convicted sexual offenders, which currently make up the bulk of their budgets. Many local rape centers have told news stations that they greatly need the new funding.
Scott said in a statement today that “while Florida has a 40-year low crime rate, we must continue to protect the rights of individuals affected by crime.”
“This critical legislation I have signed into law shows the valuable steps Florida has made in protecting the rights of victims,” he said. “April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and this week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and it is an important time to raise attention to promoting victims’ rights and remember those lives affected by violence. We will continue to work to keep our communities safe so that fewer people are victims of crime.”
H.B. 1355, which authorizes “additional spending to support victims of sexual abuse and to increase the state’s capacity to process additional reporting,” was sponsored by state Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Heathrow. Dorworth was also the House member who championed the $1.5 million for the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence that Scott vetoed.