- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Domestic violence programs in New Hampshire could receive at least $45,000 in new state funding if lawmakers approve a bill increasing the marriage license fee and fining domestic violence offenders.

“I would hate to see someone who is a victim of abuse get turned away or not get the services they need because we don’t have the money,” said Republican Sen. Sharon Carson of Londonderry.

The increase, while welcomed by advocates, would still leave New Hampshire near the bottom nationwide when it comes to state contributions for domestic violence programs. Such programs lost significant state funding in the 2012-13 budget and this plan would still leave programs behind prior funding levels.

The House-passed version of the bill increased the marriage license fee from $45 to $50. Carson brought forward an amendment in the Senate that also adds a $50 fee to all domestic violence convictions. After a minor debate over whether the fine should be mandatory - lawmakers added a line saying judges can defer it or set up payment plans - the negotiating committee agreed to the new fine.

The full House and Senate will now vote on the bill.

The marriage license fee brought in about $340,000 for domestic violence programs in 2012, which helps fund 12 crisis centers. The $5 increase will bring an additional $45,000. The Legislature previously matched the marriage license total with general funds, but lawmakers stopped that practice in the 2012-13 budget.

The existing budget sends $60,000 in general funds annually to domestic violence programs. Gov. Maggie Hassan proposed increasing that to $160,000 in 2017 in her budget proposal, a plan still making its way through the Legislature.

New Hampshire now provides some of the lowest state funding for domestic violence programs in the country, according to the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Last year, the state’s crisis centers turned away more than 1,000 people seeking emergency shelter due to limited space.

New Hampshire passed a law in 2014 to make domestic violence a separate crime and through May of this year, courts have reported 137 convictions under the law, according to the coalition. If that number doubled, the $50 fine would bring in about $14,000 annually.

“Some people expressed concerns that (the fine) would create undue burden on convicted offenders of domestic violence, but we believe that the burden that offenders have placed on society and victims is far greater than $50,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, public policy director for the coalition. “We’re going to continue to do the work we need to do to educate people about the importance of creating sustainable funding for these programs.”

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