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By not making fair decisions, stingy legislators risk the safety of women and children

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Every day at Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse we ask people to be courageous. They make difficult choices when they leave abusive situations. They leave everything they have behind and trust that their decision to leave is worth the incredible risks they are taking.

Why do they do this?

Because it is a matter of life and death.

These are powerful women, courageous children and perhaps the best teachers for our elected officials.

There is no political shell game that will ease the next beating. There is no simple decision that will protect children from harm the next time their abuser decides that their mother spent too much at the grocery store and this time he will teach her a lesson. There is no opportunity to go home after a hard day and have a glass of wine to unwind from the pressure and stress; their home is their stress!

They are in the fight of their lives and they know that to survive, something must be sacrificed. In Tucson and in Arizona, we are all in the fight of our lives, and I am saddened by what the legislature chooses to sacrifice.

The lack of leadership and courage that continues to be demonstrated by our elected officials is deeply disappointing. The legislature is unable to pass a meaningful budget that allows agencies to plan for the future. The legislature's lack of prudent fiscal planning puts women and children at risk in our community—a community legislators are elected to protect.

Let me provide you with a brief example of the kind of decisions our elected officials are making. This spring when you prepare your taxes, you will see the domestic violence shelter fund as an option for donating your tax dollars. That sounds worthwhile, doesn't it? The sad news is that our legislature has swept up all $180,000 of this fund to use elsewhere. It's better to donate to your local domestic violence agency than to the state.

For Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse, this one shortsighted decision equates to a loss of 269 nights of shelter for women and children fleeing domestic abuse.

So, in light of the poor leadership ...

Senator Melvin: Today there are 14 women and 10 children in our shelter from your district. Can I send them to your house to heal from domestic abuse, and can you be sure to provide them with 24-hour support and safety?

Representative Antenori: Today there are seven women and nine children in our shelter from your district. Can I send them to your house tonight? Please be sure to provide them with referrals for employment training so they can gain the needed skills to create a fully self-sufficient life. Also, the children will need some one-to-one work to process the abuse they just left.

Representative Williams: Today there are an additional 11 women and five children (out of our 120 in shelter) that need a safe place to sleep. Can I send them to your house tonight? They will need a bed, clean sheets and a pillow, food, shampoo and deodorant. When they left their homes they literally only had what they could carry in one bag.

To all three of you: While they are at your home, can you share with them your plan to ensure safety for them in our community? The state has cut more than $500,000 from domestic-violence funding for Tucson in the last seven months, and there is no clear direction for our state budget.

Whew, that gets us through tonight. Thanks for your help. Let's hope that the police don't have anyone else that they need to drop off after responding to one of the 20 domestic violence calls they average each night.

Elected officials' inability to make fair, tough decisions is unsafe and will cost lives. Don't believe me? There were 112 domestic-violence-related deaths in Arizona in 2009 (through Dec. 17).

It is time for real leadership that ensures our community's safety. Domestic violence is not discretionary. Emerge! is more than happy to do its share of shouldering the burden of the bad economy; however, we can't without a reasonable state budget.

Sarah Jones is the CEO of the Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse.

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