Staff members of rape crisis centers and sexual assault agencies can breathe easier after the South Carolina House and Senate overrode Gov. Nikki Haley’s Veto 51, which cut about $500,000 to the 15 agencies across the state.
The veto would have come after three consecutive years of cuts to sexual assault agencies’ budgets. These cuts would have forced one agency, People Against Rape of Charleston, to close its doors.
“It means we can continue,” said Melonea Marek, executive director of People Against Rape. “Our financial worries are never too far away, but this means we can exhale. We won’t have to stop our education program or close our doors.”
Marek cited the number of victims that spoke out against the vetoes as a huge push for overrides, and said hearing from a victim is the most effective form of advocacy.
She added that having Sen. Joel Lourie and Rep. Joan Brady as “champions for [the] program” was invaluable.
“Having a unanimous vote in the House was great,” she said. “The outcome has been fantastic.”
Ginny Waller, executive director of Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, said her organization is back on track.
“We’re very pleased, of course, and our focus now is getting back to business,” she said. “It’s been a long few weeks, but we’re very satisfied.”
Waller added: “It’s amazing to watch the process, it was an all-male Senate that overrode the Governor's veto...Hopefully we can educate Gov. Haley in the coming year.”
Joyce Hart, executive director of Rape Crisis Center in Myrtle Beach, agrees.
“We’re excited and it’s just good news,” Hart said. “It’s that much less of a struggle.”
“It’s maybe something she’ll think about before she’ll try to do it again,” Hart said of Haley’s cuts. “She knows she doesn’t have a foothold for axing every dime we get.”
Haley sparked a backlash on Tuesday from Democrats and victims advocates for referring to sexual assault agencies on her Facebook page as “special interests.”
Lourie, D-Richland, on Wednesday, suggested Gov. Haley “stay off Facebook.”
“To argue that the governor isn't supportive of victims is, on its face, absurd and shows how far political opponents will go to criticize the governor regardless of the facts,” said Haley's spokesman Rob Godfrey.
Godfrey said Haley “signed off on increased funding for both rape centers and domestic violence prosecution in the budget because it's the right thing to do.”