The D.C. City Council yesterday passed a bill to provide a limited number of mostly poor victims of violent crime in the District up to $25,000 in compensation for medical bills and lost income.
The measure also provides for payment of up to $1,000 in attorneys' fees for some crime victims and up to $2,000 in burial expenses for heirs of some homicide victims. It is expected to take effect Oct. 1 and cost about $750,000 in the first year.
"People who are victims of crime shouldn't be double victims," D.C. Mayor Marion Barry said after the bill had passed. He said he will adjust his fiscal 1983 budget to provide start-up funds for the compensation program.
The bill limits benefits to victims who are not covered by insurance or do not have other means of support to pay their medical costs or cover lost wages. Officials said the strict eligibility requirements would mean that only about 180 violent crime victims each year, or 1.5 per cent of the total of about 12,000 violent crimes, could expect compensation. The figures are based on 1979 crime reports in the city.
Dependents of homicide victims also could receive compensation for lost wages.
Under an amendment offered by Councilman H. R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), victims over 65 could exempt their homes and $10,000 in cash or assets in determining whether they have the means to pay the cost of injuries or lost wages.
The compensation program will be partially funded by new fines ranging from $20 to $500 that will be imposed on persons convicted in D.C. Superior Court of criminal acts. The amount of the fine will be determined according to a fixed formula, but in general its size would increase with the seriousness of the crime. In addition, the city will have the right to sue convicted criminals to replace city money paid out because of their crimes.
The cost of the program was estimated based on a 1979 Justice Department study of victims' compensation programs in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, which showed that the average person receiving compensation got about $3,000. According to a council report, a total of 34 states have victim compensation laws.
The District's measure, sought this year by Barry but initially proposed in the council in 1975, also limits benefits to persons who live in the city or in states that have reciprocity laws for District citizens injured in their jurisdictions. Both Maryland and Virginia have victims' compensation laws, but only Maryland's is reciprocal, council officials said.
Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, who said he first proposed a compensation bill in 1975, said the bill is "a measure of the human cost of crime to the community . . . . It is protection for those who have had no protection, and I think it will encourage people to cooperate with police."
Barry has not decided which city agency will administer the program. The bill says that no claim can be filed unless losses amount to more than $100, and persons seeking funds under the program would be required to pay a $5 fee, which could be waived.
Officials said payments under the program will not depend on whether a suspect in a crime is arrested or convicted, but that victims who receive money will be required to cooperate with police and the courts.
The bill now goes to the mayor for signature, then to Congress for 30 days' review.
The council also passed legislation yesterday designed to put into effect by August the city's workmen's compensation law, which was delayed by a court challenge.
On Jan. 28 a three-judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the council's right to pass the law reducing benefits and imposing stricter regulations on employes injured while on the job. Labor union representatives who had initially challenged the bill said they would appeal the latest ruling.
Yesterday the council, at Barry's request, passed a bill changing the effective date of the compensation law from last Oct. 1 to August to give the city time to set up regulations to implement its provisions.
The council delayed final action on a bill to give Vietnam-era veterans preference in hiring for city jobs. Consideration of the measure was postponed after an amendment substantially changed the nature of the bill.
The measure initially proposed extending the current five-year preference for Vietnam-era veterans to 10 years from the date of their discharge from service. An amendment by Councilmember Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) had the effect of extending the preference to all veterans, regardless of when they served, for 10n years from the time the bill becomes law.