COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley and other state officials on Thursday called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would consolidate several crime victim service agencies under the Attorney General's Office.
The proposal came from Haley's Domestic Violence Task Force after advocates and reports have blasted the fragmented support system for years.
Haley said the move would be another step in reducing the state's troubling status at the top of lists for incidents of domestic violence.
"There's too many people in South Carolina that are involved in domestic violence, but that number is going to change," Haley said during a press conference. "We have lots of different types of agencies and services for survivors. But none of them work together."
The state has been consistently ranked as one of the most deadly for women who die at the hands of men, but dropped to fifth place this year. The Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., has ranked South Carolina in the top 10, holding the worst spot four times, including last year.
An executive order Haley introduced Thursday will help transition the administrative functions of the agencies, but Statehouse legislation is needed to create the actual Crime Victim Services Office.
Lawmakers from both parties are optimistic legislation will be approved during the session that begins in January to move 55 state employees who deal with victim compensation, assistance grants, services-provider training and the crime victim ombudsman, under Attorney General Alan Wilson's office.
"This is the most significant reform for victims since the Victims' Bill of Rights was passed," Wilson said about the expansive law that was added to the state constitution in 1998. "It is also going to give victims advocates, victims service providers and victims a statewide elected officer giving them a voice."
Wilson compared the move to when the Office of Aging was put under the lieutenant governor's office in 2004.
Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, was among Democratic and Republican lawmakers on hand who said obtaining support for a consolidation bill will not be difficult.
"I think you'll see broad bipartisan support for the bill," Smith said. "Law enforcement and the nonprofit advocates who are here, they help build the political will to bring this about."
The proposal and the executive order dealing with the creation of the Crime Victim Services Office is one of several domestic violence initiatives Haley has pushed this year. In March she signed legislation establishing committees in the state’s 16 prosecution circuits to review the circumstances behind deaths that arise out of criminal domestic violence. Data collected could help could stem abuse.
Sheriffs from across the state backed Haley's call in April for their departments to adopt an internal policy to ensure victim safety, offender accountability and also officer safety and accountability.
In May, Haley rolled out the safeplacesc.sc.gov website, a centralized home of information and resources for domestic violence assistance. Lawmakers also approved $2.9 million in the state budget this year to hire additional prosecutors to help alleviate domestic violence case loads across the state.
The additional money came a year after the General Assembly strengthened domestic violence penalties, among other reforms. The bill was proposed at the task force’s recommendation.
The legislation was drafted after The Post and Courier published its “Till Death Do Us Part” series, which highlighted South Carolina’s ranking as the deadliest state for women at the hands of men.