PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Rhode Island lawmakers inspired by a resident who lost a leg in the Boston Marathon bombings are moving forward on legislation to make victims of terrorist attacks eligible for compensation even if the attack happened outside the state.
The bill is a response to the bureaucratic struggles encountered by Heather Abbott when she applied for the state’s crime victim compensation fund after the April 2013 attack.
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who administers the fund, has said the legislation would prevent such hurdles in the future by clarifying conflicting language in the existing law.
The House voted 68-0 to pass the bill last month. A Senate committee voted Tuesday to move it to the full Senate.
Its sponsor is Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, a Newport Democrat who said before Tuesday’s hearing that the attack on the Boston Marathon “was an act of domestic terrorism that shook all of New England.” Abbott is a Newport resident and has not publicly commented on the legislation.
Abbott was watching the race when she was catapulted through the entrance of a restaurant when the second bomb exploded. Later, in the hospital, she said she had to make the difficult decision to have her left leg amputated. She formed a non-profit foundation last year to help other amputees.
The state’s fund assists Rhode Island residents and their families if they are victims of violent crime, covering up to $25,000 for medical bills, loss of earnings or other costs. It’s designed as a fund of last resort. The state paid 603 claims last year totalling about $1.3 million. The fund is mostly for victims of Rhode Island crimes, but the existing law includes a provision assisting victims of terrorist attacks abroad — just not in other U.S. states.
The state initially denied Abbott’s claim under then-Treasurer Gina Raimondo, now the state’s Democratic governor. Abbott appealed and was later determined to be eligible under the intent of the original law. But she was never given compensation because she hasn’t submitted any expenses for consideration, said David Ortiz, spokesman for the current treasurer’s office. Ortiz said Abbott is supportive of the bill. Abbott didn’t return a request for comment Tuesday.
Rep. David Coughlin, a Pawtucket Democrat, introduced the House version of the bill at Magaziner’s request.
“Hopefully no one will ever have to go through this again,” Coughlin said.
But if a Rhode Island resident is injured in an attack and meets the criteria, Coughlin said, “we definitely want to give them a smooth path to be able to make a claim.”
Paiva Weed added that “the best possible scenario for members of the General Assembly is that we pass this legislation, we fix this loophole in the law, and no one ever has to use it.”