West Virginia Senate Considers Legislation to Prevent Crime Victims Fund From Compensating Property Owners

in-the-lab-2-436906-m.jpgThe West Virginia Senate will soon be considering legislation that would stop the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund from being used to clean up methamphetamine labs. The Senate’s action follows criticisms that meth lab cleanup claims have depleted the Crime Victims fund due to an increase in hidden labs throughout the state.

The Crime Victims Compensation Fund was originally established in 1981 to help those who were victims of violent crime. As meth labs began to accumulate throughout West Virginia six years ago, the state legislature passed a law to permit the fund to reimburse property owners for cleanup costs. West Virginia is the only state that so compensates property owners this way, and the Crime Victims fund has paid out $1.2 million to clean up meth labs, including $849,146 just last year, after law enforcement officials seized 533 labs, up from 288 in 2012. The payments went to landlords who lived out of state was well as those in West Virginia; property owners in Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio combined to receive $100,000.

In addition to property owners, the Crime Victims Compensation Fund has paid $668,000 to companies that specialize in cleaning up meth labs. To pay for the increase in claims, the state Court of Claims has tapped a reserve account that was initially set up to pay for catastrophic events such as a terrorist attack or a school shooting.

On the Senate floor, many Senators argued that these property owner payouts were taking away from the fund’s original purpose. Senator John Unger claimed that the fund was intended to help people, not compensate for property damage. Senator Mitch Carmichael stated that landlords, not the state, should be responsible for fixing up their properties. In other situations where tenants did damage to the property, the landlord would clean it up without outside compensation. However, two Senators urged their colleagues to let the state payouts for meth lab cleanup costs continue. Senators Brooks McCabe and Clark Barnes claimed that landlords who are unknowing victims of a crime — when they rent to those who use or cook meth — should not be stuck with the costs. The payments allow the properties to be repaired without passing on the costs to tenants, thus keeping housing affordable. Both Senators noted that insurance did not cover meth lab cleanup, and that such labs left rental units “uninhabitable” unless they were remediated.

Regardless of what action the Senate decides to take, it underscores the serious toll that drug use has taken on this state. In early February, Senators approved legislation that would reduce the presence of meth labs by requiring a prescription for some cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth ingredient. Not only is widespread drug use harmful to property owners, but it is also harmful for users — not the least because they could end up facing jail sentences in jails or prisons that are already overcrowded. They must rely on an experienced criminal defense attorney if they want their rights properly represented.

The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia criminal defense attorney, contact us today.

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