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Our Opinion: Legislature should centralize help for domestic violence victims

Our Opinion: Legislature should centralize help for domestic violence victims

October 7th, 2018 in Opinion

Government bureaucracy and inefficiency is preventing Missouri from better serving its domestic abuse victims.

The state Auditor’s Office recently released an audit that found cities and counties could have collected nearly $700,000 extra in fees toward domestic violence shelters. The fees, while optional, could help fund more domestic violence shelters in the state.

The audit also raised concerns state law doesn’t require municipalities to hand out money that’s earmarked for shelters, and she criticized redundant paperwork that makes it difficult for shelters to apply for local funding.

These problems are hampering the ability to build more domestic violence shelters in Missouri, and we need more. In 2017, 28,000 requests for service were denied, according to the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Eighteen counties that do collect fees didn’t distribute the fees in 2017, the audit found. Miller County, for instance, collected at least the mandatory $5 marriage license fee for domestic violence shelters but did not distribute the funds.

Local officials told auditors they either did not know about the optional fees or did not collect them because there are no shelters in their county, according to an Associated Press story.

It’s not all the counties’ fault. State statutes are “burdensome and unclear,” the audit said, so they often aren’t followed.

So what is the answer? Rather than taking a piecemeal approach to domestic violence, Missouri needs a centralized system, similar to three neighboring states: Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

If that occurs, Missouri could have a state agency administer funds to local shelters. That could streamline the process, take the burden of review off local officials and better direct money to areas with the greatest need. That also would save shelters from filing redundant paperwork that they are already required to provide to the state, the audit said.

More centralized registration and reporting also would give the state a better idea of the locations of the problems (and the needs).

When the Missouri Legislature reconvenes in January, we urge lawmakers to streamline domestic violence legislation, taking the lead from our neighboring states that have a more centralized process.

Central Missouri Newspapers