CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Victims of meth-related crimes may still be able to receive compensation, even though a bill moving through the Legislature attempted to remove those crimes as a basis for receiving funds.
Senate Bill 204 deals with the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which awards money to victims of certain crimes, including property owners who suffer damage to their properties because of meth labs.
It includes several provisions, such as increasing the amount of victim relocation costs, redefining terms and changing some timelines.
The bill also would have no longer allowed meth-related crime victims to seek compensation through the fund, but an amendment offered by Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, during a Senate Finance Committee meeting changed that.
Barnes said the passage of Senate Bill 6, which would require a prescription for pseudoephedrine, a common meth-making ingredient, would help to address the problem.
Experts have told the Legislature cutting down on the availability of ingredients will lead to a significant decrease in West Virginia meth labs.
"Under the circumstances, we're making a major, major transition with the passage of Senate Bill 6," he said.
"Certainly to me it seems almost hypocritical to say that, from the arguments we've heard in passing Senate Bill 6 and how it will be a tremendous asset in eliminating these labs, to say this is exponentially growing when I would assume most of the committee members here believe it will go down and go down substantially.
"At this particular point, I would say let's live with it another year and see what happens. There may not be a need for this at all."
West Virginia is one of the only states to pay meth-related crime victims from the compensation fund, Cheryle Hall, clerk for the state Court of Claims, told committee members.
She also said the fund has taken a hit over the past few years.
"We've had to use our reserve account, which was at $6 million several years ago and is now down to $2 million," she said. "I'm telling this committee the fund is taking a hit it can't afford. Bottom line."
If the provision had been eliminated from the bill, the cost to repair the property would fall to the property owner.
Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, works in real estate. Although he doesn't own residential rental properties, he said he could see how repairing that property could be a burden.
"I would say the owner of a small house or some type of rented residential property used as a meth lab, I do consider them a victim, a significant victim," McCabe said. "Any exposed surface has to be replaced. That means taking down the drywall, taking up the carpet," in addition to potentially replacing the insulation and heating and cooling system.
"It is a significant expense," McCabe said.
Hall indicated the price of repairing property damage could increase in the future. Barnes and others argued the cost would be mitigated by Senate Bill 6, which must still go to the House of Delegates for approval.
"I think Senate Bill 6 will help a lot," said Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone. "The intent of the bill is to basically no longer cover meth lab cleanup. This does away with that concept."
Barnes' amendment to eliminate the provision was adopted unanimously. The Senate Finance Committee passed a substitute for the bill, which will now go to the full Senate.