By SHAUNA MILLER
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 02, 2010) - The battered women who come through the door of Baltimore's House of Ruth shelter are often in fear for their lives—just like the 1,075 who didn't get in.
"Every shelter in the state experiences times when they have to turn victims away," said Dorothy Lennig, who heads House of Ruth's legal clinic.
Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Tuesday that he is trying to provide an option for those who can't get into a conventional shelter.
Brochin has introduced legislation to allow victims of domestic violence to rent hotel rooms for up to two weeks with funds from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
The board now compensates any victim who suffers a physical injury in the course of a crime. Neighboring Washington already uses a similar fund for temporary housing in domestic violence situations.
The bill would allow Maryland to keep pace with other states on practices supporting victims of domestic violence, Brochin said. He said he was concerned at the way compensation funds were being distributed, including allowing felons to use state money for medical expenses and even funeral costs.
"If a convicted felon can use this money, why shouldn't a victim of abuse be able to? This could give them another avenue for a safe haven," Brochin said. "The state has it backwards on this one."
Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and the Governor's Family Violence Council submitted statements in support of the bill.
Criminal Injuries Compensation Board Executive Director Robin Woolford said that regulation is needed to determine exactly how funds would be distributed under the new bill. The fund is set up to reimburse costs paid out by victims, which could present a problem if a victim were destitute and needed immediate shelter, he said.
Brochin proposed allowing shelters to manage portions of the fund according to their own screening protocols to ensure victims receive counseling and support along with lodging.
Lennig said that extending options for temporary shelter to victims should not preclude connecting them to more comprehensive services.
"Supporting these services does not mean we are advising people to not seek additional assistance," she said.
Woolford also stressed that the board's requirements would need to be met by those seeking funds.
"If there's a domestic violence situation and the victim is threatened or is frightened but there hasn't been a physical injury or a police report, we won't be able to compensate," Woolford said. "Our statute requires those things."
Brochin's bill would increase annual program costs by nearly $40,000, but 60 percent of those costs would be reimbursed by federal funds through the federal Victims of Crime Act. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board fund paid out $6.5 million in 2009.
Last year, 53 Marylanders died through domestic violence, according to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. Their names were read Monday in Annapolis during an annual memorial service.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.