CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's escalating methamphetamine lab cleanup costs would no longer drain a special fund initially set up to help victims of violent crime, under a bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday.
The legislation (SB204) comes after a Charleston Gazette investigative series revealed how a staggering increase in meth lab claims is gutting the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
"The problem is, it's consuming the entire budget," said Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley. "We don't want a situation where victims of violent crimes don't get compensated because the money runs out."
In 2008, property owners filed 13 claims, and the crime victims fund paid out $38,000. During the current fiscal year, the fund is on pace to pay out more than $1 million on about 200 claims.
The Crime Victims Compensation Fund, established in 1981, typically pays for crime victims' medical and funeral expenses.
In 2007, lawmakers quietly passed a bill that allowed property owners to file claims with the state to pay for meth cleanup. The fund initially paid $5,000 for each meth lab cleaning. Two years ago, legislators raised the reimbursement amount to $10,000.
"I don't think it should have been in there in the first place," Unger said. "The fund is intended to help people who have been victimized physically -- by a crime committed on their person, not their property."
Senators voted 32-1 for the bill that makes meth lab claims no longer eligible for crime victims funding. Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, voted against.
For the past several years, the West Virginia Court of Claims has tapped the crime victims fund's reserve account to pay for the increase in meth lab claims. The reserve account was set up to pay injury claims after a catastrophic event, such as a school shooting or terrorist attack. The reserve fund has dropped from $6 million to $2 million because of the spike in meth lab claims.
Last year, meth lab costs made up about 20 percent of all payouts from the crime victims funds.