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Marsy's Law passes Idaho Senate with support from Magic Valley lawmakers

Marsy's Law passes Idaho Senate with support from Magic Valley lawmakers

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BOISE — A resolution that would let Idahoans vote to add a constitutional amendment on the rights of crime victims has passed the state Senate with support from south-central Idaho lawmakers.

Senate Joint Resolution 101, more commonly known as “Marsy’s Law,” passed the Senate on a 25-9-1 vote Monday morning. Sen. Bert Brackett of Rogerson, Sen. Lee Heider of Twin Falls, Sen. Jim Patrick of Twin Falls, Sen. Michelle Stennett of Ketchum, and Sen. Kelly Anthon of Burley all voted in favor of the resolution.

This is the third year the Legislature has considered amending the Idaho Constitution through Marsy’s Law, a campaign that originated in California to strengthen rights of crime victims. Similar amendments have been adopted by states including North Dakota and Illinois, but have thus far failed to clear the Idaho Legislature.

If passed by two-thirds of the Legislature and approved by voters, the resolution would amend the state’s 1994 Victim Rights Amendment by including the right to “reasonable and timely notification” of all open court proceedings if the victim chooses, the right to be heard at certain open proceedings, require notification in cases when convicted offenders abscond or escape from probation or parole, and the right to “confer” — rather than simply “communicate” — with prosecutors. The resolution would also “provide standing” for victims to “assert their rights.”

“After 25 years, we see gaps,” said Sen. Todd Lakey of Nampa, the resolution’s sponsor. “We see areas that need improvements.”

The amendment is unlikely to significantly change practices in Twin Falls County, where most of the services included in Marsy’s Law are already provided, according to county officials.

Supporters of the resolution say it would set a higher constitutional baseline for victim’s rights in Idaho and make rights that already exist in statute and in the state’s constitution more enforceable. Meanwhile, critics have voiced concerns about the financial burden it could place on smaller counties and the fact that the initiative would amend Idaho’s constitution rather than its laws; if changes are needed down the road, it will be more difficult to make changes to the Constitution than it would be to make adjustments to statute.

While Stennett ultimately voted to pass the resolution, she told the Senate floor that she still felt “some trepidation” toward Marsy’s Law. Besides having concerns about the challenges lawmakers might face in changing the Constitution again if adjustments are needed in the future, Stennett said, she worried that the new standards might not be effectively enforced, as the current standards in law are not always enforced now and the state does not appropriate money directly for crime victim services.

“It is no mystery that I’ve been on the fence about this for quite some time,” Stennett said. “We don’t provide for crime victims services now. We’re not meeting what our current requirements are.”

Sen. Jim Rice of Caldwell said he had similar concerns about the difficulty of making further amendments to the Constitution if they are needed down the road. Rice, an attorney, criticized some of the language in the proposed amendment, describing it as too vague in some spots. He also took issue with the fact that the amendment would make notifications for victims optional, rather than required as they are now.

Rice expressed worries that making notifications optional could result in some victims who are not familiar with the Constitution not knowing that they have the right to notification.

“This diminishes the ability of crime victims to participate,” Rice said. “It doesn’t enhance it.”

Lakey disputed this point, saying victims would be informed of their right to notification and then given the chance to opt in or out.

SJR 101 has the support of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, Idaho Sheriff’s Association, Professional Firefighters of Idaho, Idaho State Association of County Coroners, and victim-witness coordinators from around the state. But some other critics of Marsy’s Law have said they would rather see the state devote resources to local victim support efforts.

“All it would do is possibly divert resources to system-based advocacy instead of keeping resources in community-based advocacy,” Donna Graybill, executive director of Voices Against Violence in Twin Falls, previously told the Times-News.

The resolution will now go to a House committee for consideration.

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