CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund no longer could be used to pay for cleaning up methamphetamine labs in the state, under legislation approved this week by a Senate committee.
The bill (SB204) follows a two-part Charleston Gazette series, "The Meth Menace," which revealed that meth lab cleanup claims were draining the crime victims fund. Last year, the fund distributed nearly $850,000 for meth lab cleanup costs, up from $378,000 in 2012.
West Virginia is the only state that reimburses property owners for meth lab expenses through a crime victims fund.
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the crime victims fund bill this week, after adopting an amendment that no longer allows payouts for meth labs.
"The money that would have otherwise gone to clean up meth labs will now be utilized for the purposes of compensating legitimate victims of crime, people who have experienced tragic loss and injuries," said Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. "It's the right thing to do."
In 1981, lawmakers set up the crime victims fund to help victims of violent crime. The fund typically pays for crime victims' medical and funeral expenses.
In 2007, as meth lab seizures spiked in West Virginia, the Legislature passed a law that allows property owners to file claims with the state to help pay for meth cleanup.
The fund initially paid $5,000 for lab cleanup costs per property. Lawmakers have since raised the reimbursement amount to $10,000.
In 2008, property owners filed 13 claims, and the crime victims fund paid out about $36,000. The fund is on pace to pay more than $1 million on 200 claims during the current fiscal year, which ends in July.
"In a disjointed kind of way, I think this can reduce the incidence of meth because there will be a higher standard of diligence from the landowner," Carmichael said Thursday. "In my view, the landlord has a responsibility to monitor their property. This puts a higher standard of duty and care on the landlord."
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.
Because of meth lab cleanup costs, the reserve fund has dropped from $6 million to $3 million over the past four years.