State Politics

Bill to aid crime victims clears a key hurdle — the panel that tossed it last 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

A national campaign with deep pockets to expand Idaho’s constitutional rights for crime victims split lawmakers and the public Wednesday morning.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 9-6 Wednesday morning to send Marsy’s Law for Idaho to the House floor, with a recommendation that it pass. But first came three hours of testimony and debate — including reassurances from a prosecutor and sheriff that the bill will help Idahoans, and worry from some lawmakers that the well-funded campaign’s advertising will distract voters from considering the bill’s full effects.

“For the last 50 years we improve and improve upon Miranda rights for defendants, making sure that we do a better job and add more protections. This is the same thing,” said Jean Fisher, who has been with the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office for 29 years.

The measure is this state’s version of a national campaign that began in California, to expand victims’ rights and formalize them in state constitutions. The amendment would update Idaho’s existing crime victims’ rights, added to the state 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, 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 lawmakers have taken up the bill. The measure cleared the Senate in 2017, but was stopped in House State Affairs in part due to ambiguity about its costs. Backers performed more economic research into the bill’s possible costs this year in an effort to avoid a repeat.

Fisher told the committee Wednesday that defendants’ rights are carefully tended to, and victims’ rights should be as well.

“This is not something to be scared about. The prosecutors aren’t scared. The law enforcement aren’t scared. ... We are just asking for some improvements and to raise the bar. There is nothing wrong with raising the bar.”

I believe that victims do need to have their rights on par with those of the criminals and it needs to be enshrined in the constitution of the state of Idaho.

Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and sponsor of Marsy’s Law.

Critics of the bill agreed victims’ rights can be improved upon, but argued it is not necessary to amend the state constitution — nor to let a national campaign with no Idaho ties push its legislation on Idaho.

“We already have state constitutional rights for crime victims. We already have a number of state statutes that continue to further enact the rights that crime victims have under Idaho’s constitution,” said Kathy Griesmyer with ACLU of Idaho.

As an alternative to Marsy’s Law, Griesmeyer cited a 2015 Boise State University report, “Crime Victims in Idaho: An Assessment of Needs and Services.”

“This report was conducted by Idaho researchers through interviewing Idaho crime victims based on their experiences interacting with Idaho crime victim programs. The report identified more than 25 recommendations,” she said. But Marsy’s Law, she said, “does not contain any of the Idaho-specific recommendations that were published in this report.”

Committee members who didn’t support the bill primarily echoed the concern that it amends the state constitution, and that the measure will have unintended consequences. The three attorneys on the committee — Reps. Lynn Luker, R-Boise; Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello; and Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens — all voted against the bill. So did Reps. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird; Heather Scott, R-Blanchard; and Christy Zito, R-Hammett.

“I am very concerned about the money that has been involved in this,” said Luker, referring to millions of dollars the Marsy’s Law organization has spent around the country trying to get the law implemented. Lobbying efforts in Idaho have included individual Facebook ads that targeted 10 House State Affairs members.

This is driven by a billionaire. ... It really has not taken into account the needs of Idaho.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise.

Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, said the bill “ultimately ... goes to the will of the people in the state of Idaho” — and thus it had his support.

“By us voting ‘yes’ it does not become law. We are not the ones making this law,” Armstrong said. “It seems unusual to me to be so suspicious of the ability of the will of the people to make the final and ultimate decision. I do not know why we are reluctant to turn that over to the people or to let their voice be heard on this.”

Luker remained skeptical.

“The public will not look at the details,” he said. “They will see the millions of dollars that is put into the advertising campaign by Marsy’s Law to say ‘let’s help victims.’ They won’t see these other issues that we have talked about here. That is why we are here ... to be the backstop.”

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell