State Politics

Effort to expand crime victims’ rights returns to House panel that halted it in 2017

The Idaho Statehouse.
The Idaho Statehouse. Idaho Statesman file

A remarkable overhaul of Idaho’s constitutional rights for crime victims has reached the Legislature.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 10-5 Friday morning to introduce Marsy’s Law for Idaho. It’s this state’s version of a national campaign that began in California, to expand victims’ rights and formalize them in state constitutions.

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.

Friday’s vote was simply to print the bill; a public hearing on its contents will come later. As a constitutional amendment, the 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.

This is the second time Marsy’s Law has been formally proposed in Idaho. Last year, ambiguity about its costs — including its effect on county and city budgets — contributed to its defeat in House State Affairs after passing the Senate.

Backers hope to avoid that this year. They paid for an economic analysis, released in December, that estimates the measure would cost a maximum of $553,000 annually — possibly less — to implement across Idaho’s criminal justice system. 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 bill has gotten broad support from professional associations involved in aspects of the criminal justice system: police, victim-witness coordinators, county coroners. But groups like the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence and the ACLU have said they’ll oppose the bill over concerns of how it defines a “victim,” and whether it will overload Idaho’s court system.

Nationally, the Associated Press reports that even supporters of Marsy's Law have been amazed by the promotional juggernaut behind it. In South Dakota, for example, California billionaire Henry Nicholas spent more than $2 million on consultants, strategists and advertising for the campaign. His slain sister Marsalee is the law’s namesake.

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