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Schwarzenegger Vetoes Domestic Violence Shelter Funding

SACRAMENTO (BCN) -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Thursday night veto of legislation that would help fund domestic violence prevention programs has vexed a state senator and worried shelter providers statewide.

The bill, SB 662, would have given counties throughout California the option of increasing by up to $10 a portion of marriage license fees that funds services for victims of domestic violence, according to Adam Keigwin, a spokesman for Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who authored the bill.

The rejection of the shelter funding comes at a time when financial pressures are leading to increased calls for help at all national violence prevention agencies, according to Camille Hayes, a spokeswoman for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

Economic recessions are proven to exacerbate violent relationships, Hayes said, possibly causing verbal or psychological abusers to advance to physical violence, and landing people already in physically abusive partnerships in emergency rooms with major injuries.

When shelters are not an option, "individuals far too often go back to their abuser, and that's when even greater tragedies happen for them and their children. That's just the brutal reality of this veto," Keigwin said.

The only provision for shelter funding in the current, stalled state budget talks is a request that $20.4 million be allocated to violence prevention agencies by the California Emergency Management Agency, Hayes said. That request is at risk for the same line-item veto that left shelters in crisis in 2009, she said.

Schwarzenegger explained in a statement that part of the reason he vetoed the bill Thursday was a lack of reporting requirements and a sunset date on the marriage fee increases.

He said the "large blanket authorization for all counties" for fee increases would make the success of the bill difficult to determine.

"The Legislature has failed to provide a well thought out plan to fund domestic violence shelters," Schwarzenegger said. "Until a budget is adopted and the appropriate level of domestic violence funding is determined, this bill is premature."

The bill was estimated to garner $2.5 to $5 million annually, which would have been a miniscule solution to the hemorrhaging of services created when state funding for shelters was severely compromised in 2009, Hayes said.

"This bill was simply trying to make up for losses in previous years," Keigwin said.

Last July, Gov. Schwarzenegger chose to line-item veto $16.3 million in state funding for domestic violence shelters, which was already a 20 percent reduction from the $20.4 million the state's 94 violence prevention agencies have traditionally operated on, Hayes said.

A complete removal of state funding would leave agencies to pay for their rent, staff, utilities, and all other operating costs out of the meager funds they are able to raise within their communities, according to Hayes and Keigwin.

"Shelters do so much work with so little money that it really is not reasonable in our view to ask them to make do with less," Hayes said.

When the state funding was removed last summer, six shelters throughout the state were forced into closure within six weeks of the veto, she said.

After a massive awareness campaign with singer Moby as a spokesman and contributor, an emergency funding bill also authored by Yee was passed by the governor last October, restoring the $16.3 million in funding, Hayes said.

Four of the six shelters that were closed were able to reopen after the funds were reinstated, Hayes said.

However, the $4 million decrease in state funding has seriously compromised the help that agencies are able to offer victims.

One agency in the Central Valley, the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition of Grass Valley, was forced to close on June 30 because state funding for the 2010-2011 fiscal year was still not confirmed, Hayes said.

Some Grass Valley citizens are trying to balance the loss of the agency by offering their homes as safe houses for violence victims on the run from their abusers, Hayes said. While this effort is "heroic," she said, it is not a safe or long-term solution for assisting victims of domestic violence.

"The state needs to step up its public safety responsibility, period," she said.

She called SB 662 a "very admirable effort to get state support for shelters," and Keigwin said Yee would not let Thursday's rejection slow him down.

"He absolutely won't vote for a budget that does not have this funding," Keigwin said. "He'll do everything he can to continue to fight for those funds. Unfortunately, that may take us getting a new governor."

(© CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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