AUGUSTA — A legislative committee unanimously endorsed a bill Wednesday to increase state funding for programs that help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Maine.

The funding bump – $2.5 million a year – would be used by agencies statewide that counsel and provide emergency services and legal help to victims. The state money could also help draw federal matching funds for some programs.

The bill would provide the first state increase in 19 years to these programs, which are increasingly in demand, driven in part by the state’s opioid crisis, according to the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast.

Dozens of survivors and advocates, including top leaders from both parties, rallied at the State House last week in advance of a public hearing on the bill.

The funding would be split among eight organizations that provide a range of services. Some of the organizations operate 24-hour hotlines and run educational programs to build awareness and prevent domestic and sexual violence.

Members of the Health and Human Services Committee enthusiastically supported the measure, which they said was long overdue.

“We certainly have to do something to keep our population safe,” said Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston.

Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, who said she’s worked as a social worker with child victims of sexual assault, also praised the bill, thanking Herbig and other supporters of the bill, including Elizabeth Ward Saxl, executive director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who briefed lawmakers on how the funding would be used.

“The services that you guys provide are just amazing,” Madigan said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, said she initially worried that the survivors’ stories would be depressing, but instead found their words inspiring.

“I actually found it incredibly uplifting, there was so much strength in the room,” Hymanson said.

She noted that advocates for such programs have tried for years to secure additional funding, including proposals to add fees to marriage licenses or taxes on take-out meals – all of which were rejected by previous legislatures.

The bill, L.D. 1171, now faces floor votes in the House and Senate before it can be added to the state’s next two-year budget – which is currently being considered by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee – work that must be completed by June 30.

 

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog

 

 

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