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Panel OKs Bill to Aid Shelters

Government: State Senate committee approves $4 million to keep homes for abused women in operation through 2003.


SACRAMENTO — A state Senate committee approved $4 million Tuesday to bail out battered-women's shelters whose grants were cut off last year in a snafu that embarrassed Gov. Gray Davis.

On a unanimous vote, the Public Safety Committee sent the proposal (SB1712) by state Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena) to the Appropriations Committee for further scrutiny and expected passage to the full Senate.

The bailout is the second in two years. Last year, the Legislature approved $2 million in emergency grants to keep the shelters in business through June 30.

The current bill would set aside $4 million for the 10 shelters throughout California in 2002-03. The shelters, which receive a combination of state and federal funds, are prohibited by U.S. rules from applying for renewed grants any sooner than 2004.

A controversy erupted last year when it was disclosed that officials of the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning, which approves the shelter funds, had denied renewing grants for a variety of minuscule reasons, including typing mistakes on applications.

Consequently, the shelters, many of whose applications had been routinely approved in the past, were in jeopardy of shutting off services to abused women and children. Even the application of respected Haven House of Pasadena, which at 38 is the oldest in the country, was rejected because it submitted too many pages of explanation.

Davis, who apparently was unaware of the office's actions, signed an emergency bill last summer to keep the shelters open.

But in a rare public demonstration of temper, Davis blistered the agency for invoking "the most trivial of technicalities" to deny the grants.

Davis supports spending $4 million for the shelters as a two-year rescue package, even though he is struggling to erase the state's $17.5-billion budget shortfall. The money would be tapped from surplus funds in a program that pays for DNA lab work in cases involving unsolved sexual crimes.

At first, the Public Safety Committee appeared unenthusiastic about Scott's bill. But the senator persisted, noting that the shelters cannot seek grants for at least two years and that they face the prospect of going out of business in the meantime.

"This is just such a pressing need," Scott told the committee. "They cannot apply until 2004. We've got to face the reality of keeping open these domestic violence shelters."

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