California's domestic violence shelters, hit with a huge budget loss when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut all their state funding in July, pledged Tuesday to continue pressing for that money to be restored after a bill that would have done just that failed in the state Senate.
Six of the state's 94 domestic violence shelters have closed since Schwarzenegger used a line-item veto July 28 to cut the $16.3 million California provided across the system, said Camille Hayes, a spokeswoman for The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.
SBX3 13, a bill by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, passed through the Assembly by a wide margin before failing to get the votes needed in the Senate last week when Republican senators abstained from voting on all bills requiring a two-thirds majority to pass.
"It feels that we've been defeated, but we haven't," said Carolyn Johnson, executive director of A Safe Place, Oakland's only domestic abuse shelter. "Our bill still has an opportunity to go back, and it will. So we know it's going to be a struggle, but we have not given up."
Shelters are overwhelmed with a growing need for their services at the same time funding is disappearing, said Michelle Davis, director of development at Concord's STAND Against Domestic Violence advocacy group.
"We're getting hit from both ends, and as we're struggling to provide services. The death toll continues to mount," Davis said. "We're now at 19 domestic-violence-related deaths in Contra Costa County from last August until now. That's about 500 percent above historical numbers. In a normal year we might have three deaths. We're partnering with everyone we can, but death toll tells us people are falling through the cracks."
While some shelters are trying to make up for staff layoffs by recruiting volunteers, that comes with additional problems, Hayes said.
"Volunteers don't enjoy confidentiality privileges and could be subpoenaed, so they can't provide the same kind of crisis counseling a staff member could," Hayes said.
Niko Johnson, executive director of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition of Grass Valley, closed one of the program's six shelters in early August.
"With the funding that was lost, about $207,000, we couldn't continue to keep the doors open," she said. "There are no longer any shelters in Western Nevada County. And in such a large geographic area, for women to leave their county with their children is virtually impossible because they're usually in situations with custody and can't take their children over county lines."
Senate Republicans chose not to vote on bills requiring a two-thirds vote — essentially guaranteeing they would not pass the Senate — primarily because "(as) millions of Californians continue to suffer through the worst recession in 35 years, the Democrat-led Legislature could not even uphold the budget agreement until the ink was dry. They chose not to pass a single job creating bill. They couldn't deliver a water package to parched farms and cities, and they were silent on our coming pension crisis," Senate Republican leader Jim Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, said in a statement.
Yee plans to reintroduce the bill whenever the Senate is next in session, said Adam Keigwin, Yee's chief of staff.
"We wait on the call of (Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento) for a special session," Keigwin said. "We expect it in the next few weeks, but he has not told our offices yet. He's working on the water deal, and once that's completed, it should be ready to come up for a vote."
"The governor has expressed sympathy for our concerns and is interested in looking for a solution, but he has not given us any kind of commitment," Hayes said.
A spokesman for Schwarzenegger said the governor generally refrains from commenting on a bill before it is introduced.