Another polarizing issue waiting for Idaho’s 64th legislative session has to do with changing crime victims’ rights in the Idaho Constitution, commonly referred to as Marsy’s Law.
“Marsy’s Law” refers to the California law, the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008. The movement began after a billionaire doctor’s sister was killed by her ex-boyfriend while attending college in Santa Barbara in the 1980’s. The victim’s family was not notified of the killer’s release on bond, ultimately jeopardizing their safety. The doctor donated 5 million dollars toward the California initiative, and he continues to fund ongoing efforts to get other states to adopt laws which strengthen victims’ rights.
During the 2017 Idaho legislative session, a senator proposed several versions of a Senate Joint Resolution (titled “Rights of Crime Victims”), in order to modify victims’ rights in the Idaho Constitution. The third SJR was passed in the senate with 34 votes, but got held up in the House State Affairs Committee of which I am a member. After the resolution failed in the House, the national lobby group Marsy’s Law for All launched a chapter in Idaho. Marsy’s Law lobbyists have now contacted every state legislator and are requesting resolutions supporting their efforts from every county central committee. They are working hard to get Marsy’s Law passed in Idaho.
Arguments on both sides of the issue were discussed during the public hearing. Victims testified that they wanted more protections solidified in the constitution, and they felt that current laws were not being effectively implemented. Victim advocates want additional notification to be required at post-conviction release, parole discharge, change of probation status, and commutation or pardon.
Legislators and defense lawyers questioned the economic impact, the need for a constitutional change versus a change in statute, and expressed concerns that the new definition of victim increased the ambiguity surrounding juveniles and victims of emotional or financial injury. At the time of the vote, the fiscal impact was unknown, but last week a new economic impact study found that the proposal could cost taxpayers $553,000 annually, require 13 new state employees, and have a one-time $200,000 constitutional change burden.
I strongly support victims’ rights, yet I voted against the proposed constitutional amendment in committee. I couldn’t support drastic changes to definitions in our constitution without first attempting to strengthen the existing statutes. It did not seem wise to implement an ambiguous change with unknown fiscal consequences for Idaho taxpayers.
Lobby Idaho, one of Idaho’s largest lobbying firms, has announced their intentions to reintroduce the resolution once the legislature convenes in January. If the resolution passes the house and senate with 2/3 majorities, Idahoans will see this phrase on the 2018 ballot, “Shall Section 22, Article I, of the Constitution of the State of Idaho be amended to provide equal rights to crime victims, including the right to notification of court proceedings, reasonable protection from the accused, and a voice in the criminal justice process?”
Confusingly, that statement does not completely address all the changes that would be implemented. It is misleading because these protections are already in place in statue and the constitution but the wording of the constitution would be slightly modified. The effects of the proposed modifications are yet to be determined.
My question is: do the voters of District 7 want to support sweeping changes to the constitution and the associated costs required to implement Marsy’s Law? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts regarding this issue.