Equal access for victims of police violence act passes in CA Senate committee

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The Equal Access for Victims of Police Violence Act, or SB 299, was authored by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino. The state bill aims to increase accessibility to California’s program for victim compensation.

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The California Senate Public Safety Committee passed the Equal Access for Victims of Police Violence Act, or SB 299, on Tuesday.

SB 299 comes in the wake of families of victims of police violence — such as the family of Daunte Wright Sr., who was killed April 11 during a traffic stop — setting up GoFundMe campaigns to cover funeral and grief counseling costs. The bill would improve accessibility to California’s victim compensation program for victims of police violence.

The bill was authored by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, and co-sponsored by State Controller Betty Yee, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, Youth ALIVE!, Californians for Safety and Justice and the Prosecutors Alliance of California.

“Currently, California’s Victim Compensation program has many barriers to eligibility, and much of the system relies on law enforcement,” said Gabriel Garcia, Youth ALIVE! policy and advocacy manager, in an email. “Families can be disqualified for benefits if they are too afraid to cooperate with a police investigation, or if they do not make a police report.”

If the bill is enacted, families and individuals affected by police violence can receive assistance with burial expenses, medical expenses, damages to property and counseling, according to Cristine Soto DeBerry, executive director of the Prosecutors Alliance of California.

DeBerry said victims and families can prove their eligibility by receiving documentation from trauma recovery centers and therapists. DeBerry noted that these changes built on the previous changes to benefit victims of sexual violence and sexual harm, as well as domestic abuse victims.

“Victims of unlawful assaults by law enforcement could be excluded either because there was never charges brought or a conviction for the injury they suffered (and it is well known how difficult it is to bring charges against law enforcement) and if they failed to cooperate with law enforcement (which would be a likely feature of a case where law enforcement did the assaulting),” said Jonathan Simon, UC Berkeley professor of criminal justice law, in an email.

Simon added that victims and their families may not know about the program and may have to prove the use of unlawful force, which will be difficult in cases that are not as well-documented as the deaths of George Floyd and Wright Sr.

The last day the state Legislature can pass the bill is Sept. 10, 2021, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom must approve the bill by Oct. 10, according to Leyva’s spokesperson Sergio Reyes.

“Families should not have to resort to starting a GoFundMe in order to bury their loved one,” Garcia said in the email. “People should not have to go into debt seeking grief counseling to heal from state violence. We need to both stop state violence and prioritize healing for those who are most impacted.”

Contact Megha Krishnan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_meghakrishnan_.