It didn’t have to work out this way

Cameron Smyth Commentary, Right Here Right Now

Next month, California will recognize October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Unfortunately, we will also recognize the disastrous impacts that recent budget cuts have had on domestic violence centers here in the Santa Clarita Valley, and throughout California.

To date, several shelters have already closed their doors due to lack of funding after the Department of Public Health’s Domestic Violence Program budget was completely eliminated by the governor in July.

At a time when domestic violence cases are on the rise, many more of these centers are now forced to reduce services or shut down altogether after emergency legislation to restore funding failed to receive the necessary votes in the state Senate.

Sadly, it didn’t have to work out this way.

Last month, I joined Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, in authoring legislation that would restore $16.3 million in funding for domestic violence shelters and centers throughout the state.

This would have been a 20 percent cut from their previous budgets, but it would have allowed them to continue serving victims of domestic violence who often have nowhere else to turn.

All of this could have been done without requiring any new money, as the funding would have been loaned from one of the myriad special funds that exist in the state budget.

When I presented the bill in the Assembly, it received broad bipartisan support, with many of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle, and representing all areas of the state, speaking in favor of the measure and offering stories of how important these vital programs are in their districts.

Listening to my colleagues speak, it was clear that domestic violence is not a Democrat or Republican issue; it is not an urban or rural issue; it is not a rich or poor issue.

Once the bill was sent to the Senate, however, it became entangled in a bitter partisan fight and fell victim to several internal squabbles that had no relation to the bill.

First, Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would not allow the bill to come up for a vote until he stripped Sen. Yee of his authorship. Why was that necessary? I have no idea.

Secondly, my Senate Republican colleagues had committed to oppose any bill requiring a two-thirds vote. As a result, this bill, along with several others, stalled just three votes short of passage.

I understand my Senate colleagues’ desire to hold firm on the two-thirds vote issue, but I also feel that restoring funding for domestic violence shelters was a worthy exception.

Every day that funding is not restored, more and more shelters are closing and reducing desperately needed services to a countless number of California families.

There are very few opportunities to restore funding to programs without creating new revenue sources. This was one of them.

In a year when the Legislature has passed a massive tax increase, debated the early release of thousands of inmates, and failed to deliver a solution to the state’s water crisis, this was a chance to make a positive impact on California.

Next month, there is a very good chance that the Legislature will reconvene in special session. When that happens, I will push for reintroduction of this critical legislation.

Hopefully at that point the Senate will stop playing politics and help restore services to some California families who have nowhere else to turn.