Gilbert bill to direct all Alicia's Law revenue to Internet Crimes Against Children; Senate version still intact
By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Area law enforcement officers agree with child-advocacy groups that more investigators are needed to fight the scourge of sexual predators who target children.
Lobbying group PROTECT and the National Association to Protect Children are turning up the heat on Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, and Gov. Bob McDonnell as part of the groups' efforts to combat putting a funding cap on revenue generated from court fees that finance Internet Crimes Against Children task forces.
Passed by the General Assembly in 2010, Alicia's Law adds $10 fees to court costs for each felony and misdemeanor count of which a defendant is convicted.
Named after Alicia Kozakiewicz, a 13-year-old Pittsburgh girl kidnapped, raped and tortured by a Virginia man she met online, Alicia's Law funds officers on the task forces and grant programs to pay for dedicated ICAC positions within departments, according to Camille Cooper, director of legislative affairs for PROTECT.
Kozakiewicz survived her ordeal 10 years ago, and speaks about her experiences and Internet dangers to young people and legislators.
The ICAC task forces investigate cases such as adults trying to meet up with underage children they've met online and adults creating and/or dealing in child pornography.
When the law was passed in Virginia, legislators expected the fees to generate $1.8 million each year, but they've actually raised $650,000 above that annually, according to a news release from the National Association to Protect Children.
Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said the budget proposed by McDonnell would cap the funding at $1.8 million, with the remainder going to the state's general fund by default.
A budget amendment Gilbert introduced that would have all the money go to the task force funding failed in the House.
However, the Senate has all the money going to the intent of Alicia's Law in its proposed budget, Gilbert said.
On Monday, Sherwood praised the work done by PROTECT, but said Alicia's Law programs weren't receiving any cuts to their original anticipated revenue, while other projects were getting cut.
McDonnell would be receptive to changing how Alicia's Law funding is handled if legislators wish, his deputy communications director said via email Monday.
PROTECT and NAPC members and their supporters -- including some parents of children murdered in high-profile cases -- have been posting comments on Sherwood's Facebook page, urging her to fight the cap.
"Imagine you are a 2 year old who is being repeatedly raped and photographed by a family member," Mika Moulton's post says. "The front line Heroes of the ICAC are saving lives all across Virginia. Keep the funding in place!"
Frederick County Sheriff's investigator James Galbreath's job is dedicated solely to investigating the sexual exploitation of minors and is funded by Alicia's Law. Another investigator devotes part of his time to the ICAC.
"Anyone that tells you that there's not a need for more investigators in the field of child exploitation regarding online activities, doesn't have a clue what's going on," Galbreath said. "I think if the intent of the bill was to add additional fines and fees with the intent of improving the investigation of sexual exploitation of minors, then that's what the intent is.
"We're fortunate [in Frederick County]. I believe we're at the point where we could use another person, but we also realize that there's agencies out there that don't even have one, or that don't even have a part-time person."
Galbreath said task force agents will travel to investigate cases if necessary.
He stressed that Sherwood and McDonnell, in addition to Gilbert, have been very supportive of ICACs' work.
"We want to be able to identify [victims]," Galbreath said. "We want to be able to rescue them. We want to be able to provide them services."
Technology has made it easier for pedophiles to share pornography and to get access to children, Galbreath said.
In Shenandoah County, Sheriff Timothy C. Carter said he'd like to have funding for an ICAC position.
"Staffing is the issue," he said. "We would love to have the opportunity to have revenue to do that."
There is an investigator who is trained to investigate Internet predation, but he also has duties in other areas, Carter said. He, too, said the Internet and cell phones have made it easier to exploit children and teens.
"It's not as difficult as it was before to make those things happen," Carter said. "All the more reason the funding should be there for officers to be involved and to investigate those crimes and put adequate resources to protect those vulnerable people. You're talking about children here."