State Politics

How much will expanding victims’ rights cost Idahoans? Around $550,000 a year.

Her daughter was murdered. She speaks from experience about crime victim’s rights

Shirley Blomberg's daughter, Samantha Maher, was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 2002. The victim-witness coordinator who accompanied her through the court process was priceless, she says. A law being introduced in the Idaho legislature, called M
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Shirley Blomberg's daughter, Samantha Maher, was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 2002. The victim-witness coordinator who accompanied her through the court process was priceless, she says. A law being introduced in the Idaho legislature, called M

The latest campaign to expand and enshrine victims’ rights in Idaho began in September. Since then, the largest question around the proposed constitutional amendment has been the price tag that comes with it.

An economic analysis released Monday by the group supporting Marsy’s Law for Idaho estimates the measure would cost a maximum of $553,000 annually — possibly less — to implement across Idaho’s criminal justice system. It’s not settled where the money would come from. But much of that cost is tied to Idaho counties and cities, and much of the funding may be their responsibility as well.

In addition, state lawmakers would need to approve a possible $205,000 from Idaho’s general fund to pay for a statewide public vote on the matter.

The election costs were included in a note accompanying the bill during the 2017 legislative session, when Sen. Todd Lakey first brought Marsy’s Law forward. But that note only referenced other possible local and state expenses and did not provide any sort of dollar figure for them. This new analysis is meant to provide a more specific estimate of those other costs, and a more thorough estimate for lawmakers.

Lakey, R-Nampa, again plans to propose the measure in January.

Marsy’s Law is a national effort that started in California. Idaho’s version would amend this state’s existing crime victims’ rights, added to the Idaho Constitution in 1994. The changes would include a broader definition of victims and adjustments to their interactions with prosecutors, among other things.

As a constitutional amendment, Lakey’s bill must pass both the House and Senate with two-thirds or more of the vote. It would then be put before Idaho voters, needing a simple majority of votes to pass.

Ambiguity about the law’s costs — including its effect on county and city budgets — played a role in its failure to pass the Legislature in 2017.

The new analysis reflects research done by ECONorthwest, an economic consulting firm paid by lobbyists supporting Marsy’s Law for Idaho. According to Monday’s release, the firm examined federal statistics on violent crime for all 44 Idaho counties, and spoke with the prosecutor, sheriff and court staff in five counties of different sizes. The firm also interviewed staff for Idaho’s Victim Information Notification Everyday system, commonly called VINE, which provides automated updates about court appearances, jail releases and parole hearings to victims who apply to receive them.

The money would include funding for an additional 13.2 full-time employees to manage required notifications to victims throughout the criminal justice process, according to the Marsy’s Law for Idaho campaign. It’s unclear which counties or departments those new employees would work for.

And the consultants believe the law might cost even less if smaller counties “find ways to collaborate and share resources” for notifications, according to the release.

“Some counties are unlikely to experience any substantial increase in resources to comply with Marsy’s Law given the notification systems are in place,” the news release stated.

The statement is referring to VINE, used today by most of Idaho’s counties. While a large part of Idaho’s criminal justice system supports Marsy’s Law, various officials told the Statesman earlier this year about already-high caseloads and additional staffing and expenses that may be needed to keep up with the law’s requirements. The state Commission of Pardons and Parole isn’t even hooked up to VINE, Executive Director Sandy Jones said.

Jones said last week that supporters have since consulted her about Marsy’s Law. If there is funding to help with the notification process, she would support the law, she said, but she still had concerns about whether she’d have the resources to keep up with its demands.

The Idaho Board of Correction has signed on to the effort, according to Monday’s news release.

“The Idaho Board of Correction, staff and employees are concerned for the victims of crime and committed to providing assistance while the offender is incarcerated and being held accountable for those crimes,” said Debbie Field, the board’s chairwoman. “Idaho has long been a leader in supporting victims, and Marsy’s Law would take those rights to the next level in a way that the benefits outweigh the limited cost.”

CORRECTION: This report earlier misstated the number of counties where officials were interviewed about Marsy’s Law. It has also been updated to clarify where Marsy’s Law funding may come from.

Lauren Busdon, 19, spoke to the media on Sept. 25, 2017, at the Statehouse in support of Marsy's Law for Idaho. Busdon shared details around how she was treated during her rapist's prosecution, advocating for change.

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