- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina lawmakers want to combine crime victims services now spread over several agencies, saying a single office can better assist them.

A proposal announced Thursday by Gov. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson would consolidate the various services in his office next year. Haley is signing an executive order to plan for the transition.

“What we want to know is we’re doing everything we can for every person who feels vulnerable - for everyone who’s put in a situation they don’t deserve - to know there’s a home for them and a place for them,” Haley said. “When we create a team, that’s when magic happens.”

The consolidation will require legislation. Legislators from both parties stood behind Haley and Wilson at the Crime Victims’ Memorial Garden in Columbia. They say the proposal should easily pass in the legislative session that starts in January.

The move involves about 55 existing employees, Haley said.

The proposal was among a task force’s 50 recommendations for combatting domestic violence last year. Haley, who created the group in January 2015, said officials are working to implement all of them.

South Carolina consistently ranks at or near the worst nationwide for domestic violence incidents.

Haley noted that the recommendation is not new. Three Legislative Audit Council reports between 1999 and 2009 “all stressed this is something that needs to be done,” she said.

Divisions to be combined include the State Office of Victims’ Assistance and Crime Victims’ Ombudsman , now under the Department of Administration, as well as several grant programs overseen by the Department of Public Safety.

According to the governor’s office, 27 other states already combine such services in one office. Money available through the Victims’ Assistance office includes up to $15,000 for medical and dental bills and $4,000 for funeral expenses.

Crime victims advocate Laura Hudson has supported the idea for years. The state’s fragmentation makes it difficult for victims to get the help they need, she said.

“Our hope is this will bring a lot of services, like a ‘one stop shop’ for people, that we can serve them with compassion, with clarity, with transparency, with financial efficiency,” said Hudson, director of the state Crime Victims’ Council.

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