Victims' Rights Caucus


VOCA, Round 2

Feb 15 2006

Mr. Speaker, that great Iron Lady from across the ocean, Margaret Thatcher, made the comment that you may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.

Let me give you a little historical background. I have spent all my life in the criminal justice system, first as a prosecutor in Texas and 22 years as a criminal court judge, heard about 20, 25,000 criminal cases, everything from stealing to killing. I saw a lot of people come to the courthouse.

But another group of people also worked their way to the courthouse, and they did not want to be there either, and that was the victims of crime. They were young, they were old, they were men, they were women, they were children. They were the silent group of people who were prey because of criminals.

Victims do not really have a lobby because most of them have to take care of themselves after they become victims of crime, until recently. In 1984, a novel program was started under the Reagan administration called VOCA, Victims of Crime Act; and the idea was pretty simple: Criminals in the Federal courts that are convicted pay into a court cost fund. That money then is used for victims and helps pay for their injuries, for their medical expenses, sometimes the funeral expenses. A great idea: Make criminals pay for the system they have created. Make them pay the rent on the courthouse. And that has been going along fairly well, so well that approximately $1.2 billion is now in that fund. And it is not taxpayer money. It is not the Federal Government's money. It is money that belongs to victims, money that has been obtained from criminals. And it is a crucial resource for different organizations throughout the United States.

Most victims groups, programs, agencies operate under a shoestring. Many of them are just trying to keep lights on, and they receive this VOCA funding. We are talking about domestic violence shelters. We are talking about rape crisis centers. Victim compensation funds, funeral services, and medical expenses all receive benefit from VOCA funding. One example is in Houston, the Children's Assessment Center, a program like 400 others throughout the United States, where sexually abused children go so that they can be treated not only for their medical injuries but their emotional pain and get themselves prepared for trial.

We have approximately 4,400 agencies in this country that depend on that VOCA victim fund. We are talking about 3.6 million victims a year. VOCA is the only Federal program that supports services to victims of all types of crimes: homicide, drunk driving, elder financial exploitation, identity theft, robbery, and rape.

So what is the problem, Mr. Speaker? Well, the bandit budget bureaucrats are up to their old tricks. They are stealing this money from the victims fund, and they want it to go into the abyss of the Federal treasury.

This may all sound familiar. It is familiar. A year ago those same individuals wanted to do the same thing, and because of different victims groups in the United States, that was stopped. That VOCA fund stayed with victims. It did not go into the abyss of the Federal treasury. But now those bureaucrats are up to these old tricks again, and they want that money to be taken from victims and put into the abyss of the Federal budget.

Mr. Speaker, that money does not belong to the Federal Government. It is not taxpayer money. It is money that belongs to victims.

Victims continue to get victimized in the criminal justice system, and now this is another way of victimizing victims once again.

Mr. Speaker, when I came to the House of Representatives, I, along with Jim Costa from California from the other side of the aisle and Katherine Harris from Florida, started the Victims Rights Caucus to bring the awareness of the plight of victims to this House. Because you see, Mr. Speaker, it is the first duty, the first responsibility, of government to protect