More on Nebraska’s crime victims: Bipartisan bills aim to get more aid to victims of violent crime

Legislators have introduced at least two bills related to Nebraska’s Crime Victim’s Reparations program during the ongoing legislative session.

Omaha Sen. Wendy DeBoer, a Democrat, introduced Legislative Bill 757 based on findings in a survey of 18 programs that help victims across the state. Her office conducted a survey with the Women’s Fund of Omaha.

The bill, which has Republican and Democrat co-sponsors, aims to help the program help more people: It extends the deadline for reporting the crime to police from three to five days, extends the filing deadline for minors and lets the CVR committee consider applications that miss the deadline for “good cause.”

An anecdote DeBoer shared: A minor’s claim for compensation following her rape was denied because her father filed it a day late.

Would passage of LB 757 cause a sudden uptick in the numbers Nebraska reports to the federal government, which pales in comparison to most surrounding states? Probably not, DeBoer said, but the people it would add to those numbers – like that minor – are among those who need the most help.

The bill received a priority designation from Speaker John Arch, a Republican from La Vista, who has 25 such designations to dole out per session. The Judiciary Committee approved it unanimously, sending it to the full Legislature for consideration.

Another bill, from Omaha Sen. John Fredrickson, a Democrat, would ban medical providers from referring to victims of sexual assault, domestic assault, trafficking or child abuse to collections.

The bill, LB 315, also prohibits “distributing information” that could affect their credit score.

Victims are routinely billed for medical costs because they don’t have insurance, they haven’t used it or it didn’t cover certain services, said Katie Welsh, legal director at the Women’s Center for Advancement, at the bill’s public hearing.

“Victims are in these situations through no fault of their own, but are bearing the brunt of the consequences,” she said. “When the bill goes unpaid, it gets sent to a collection agency, in some cases years after the original incident, which leads to more phone calls and letters ordering the victim to pay up.”

Melanie Kirk, legal director at the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, said at the hearing that survivors’ medical bills are still being sent to collections even while medical providers wait for reimbursement from the Crime Victim’s Reparations program.

“That process takes time and sometimes hospitals and their billing staff move a little bit more quickly,” he said.

Fredrickson has now proposed LB 315 as an amendment to DeBoer’s LB 757, which he said was done in agreement with Arch and DeBoer.

DeBoer said she intends to continue bringing legislation on the issue.

“We’re gonna keep bringing bills until we get it right,” she said.

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