CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation that would stop the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund from being used to clean up methamphetamine labs will be up for passage today in the Senate.
Meth lab cleanup claims have drained the crime victims fund amid a sharp increase in the clandestine labs statewide.
"This fund was not intended to clean up properties and compensate for property damage," said Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley. "This fund was intended to help people."
On a narrow voice vote Tuesday, senators approved an amendment to a bill (SB204) that removes a section of state law that allows the crime victims fund to reimburse property owners for meth lab cleanup costs.
Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said landlords -- not the state -- should be held responsible for fixing up their properties.
"If somebody walks into your rental unit with a ball bat or hammer and tears apart the place, we don't compensate for that," Carmichael said. "It's the responsibility of the landlord."
West Virginia is the only state that pays property owners for meth lab expenses. Other states require property owners or convicted meth lab operators to pick up cleaning costs.
During the past two years, the crime victims fund has paid out $1.2 million to clean up West Virginia's meth mess.
Last year, the fund distributed $849,146 for meth lab claims, up from $378,404.
Out-of-state landlords who own meth-contaminated properties in West Virginia received $100,000 of those payouts for cleanup costs since January 2012. Payments went to property owners in Kansas City, Mo; Surfside Beach, S.C.; Arlington, Va.; and Cincinnati.
In 1981, the Legislature set up the crime victims fund to help victims of violent crime. The fund typically pays for crime victims' medical and funeral expenses.
Six years ago, as meth labs began to proliferate in West Virginia, the Legislature passed a law that allows property owners to file claims with the state to help pay for meth cleanup.
Initially, the fund paid $5,000 for cleanup costs. State lawmakers raised the reimbursement amount to $10,000 two years ago.