State Politics

Bill stalls amid lawmakers’ concerns over its effect on ‘real victims’

An expansion of Idaho’s constitutional protections for victims of crime failed to pass the House by just five votes Monday after a lengthy afternoon debate.

The resolution, called Marsy’s Law for Idaho, is this state’s version of a national campaign that started in California. Among its changes, it would have adjusted Idaho’s definition of a “victim” and altered the rights a victim has to speak with prosecutors.

As a constitutional amendment, the measure needed a two-thirds vote in support to pass the House and proceed to the Senate. That required 47 of the House’s 70 members, but the final vote was 42-28.

Marsy’s Law organizers said they would try again in 2019.

“Some people just don’t care about equal rights for crime victims, and that’s unfortunate,” said Jason Arrington, the campaign’s state director, in a release sent out shortly after the vote. “Even so, we do not intend to give up this fight. This will simply make us more focused and committed to come back and work on behalf of victims who deserve to have a stronger voice and rights equal to those of the accused.”

This was the second year the amendment was proposed. In 2017, it passed the Senate but lost a later committee vote. Amendments to the Idaho Constitution must pass both the House and Senate by margins of two-thirds, then pass a public vote, usually during the November election.

Many Idaho organizations involved in the criminal justice system lined up to support Marsy’s Law this time around. But it still had its critics, including the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, which argued that there are other documented needs of victims in this state for lawmakers to address. Critics also feared that the revised definition of “victim” was too broad.

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, expressed concern Monday that the changes would affect services given to the victims of major criminal acts – putting them on par with more minor crimes.

“It might have (a) diluted effect on real victims,” Rubel said.

Boise Republican Rep. Lynn Luker, an attorney, talked about victims who spoke in support of the amendment. Many of their complaints, he said, were about authorities failing to comply with and uphold Idaho’s existing rights for crime victims. (Those were added to the Idaho Constitution in 1994.)

“Most of the complaints were not about the law, they were about the law not being fulfilled,” said Luker, who chairs the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee. “Will that change if we put that in (the) Constitution with more responsibilities? It does need to change, but it needs to change where the rubber meets the road, not the law.”

He and other lawmakers said improvements could be made without amending the Constitution.

But Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, who was a co-sponsor of the amendment, objected to that idea. If defendants’ rights are upheld in the Constitution, victims’ rights should be as well, he said.

“Victims never ask to be interjected into the criminal justice system,” Crane said. “Most of the time they’re there against their own will.”

Several lawmakers, including Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, expressed concern that the state is currently providing criminal defendants with more rights than victims. Like the rest of the American legal system, Idaho’s courts must follow state and federal constitutional protections for people charged with crimes, requiring due process and a fair trial.

“The criminal is far more protected than the victim, but typically the criminal isn’t injured in any way,” said McDonald, a retired Idaho State Police officer. “But the victim is. It can be a life-changing event that affects them for the rest of their lives.”

Coeur d’Alene Republican Rep. Luke Malek, a candidate for U.S. House, spoke at length about his experience as a former prosecutor. Prosecutors often “walk on eggshells” to make sure a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights are upheld, he said, but victims don’t see the same treatment.

 ‘Victims rights’ never came across my vocabulary as a prosecutor,” Malek said.

Idaho Senate panel again kills cannabinoid oil measure

A proposal to legalize oil extracted from cannabis plants is likely dead for the year after a group of lawmakers broke out in turmoil during a last-minute attempt to advance the bill.

Republican Sen. Tony Potts on Monday asked the Senate Health and Welfare Committee to give HB 577 a hearing. However, Potts was quickly gaveled down by Sen. Lee Heider, chairman of the panel.

Instead, Heider instructed the panel to meet privately to discuss Potts’ motion. Heated yelling could be heard by multiple members from inside Heider’s office.

The committee broke up after being warned by a reporter that its actions were breaking the state’s Open Meeting Law. Members then voted to hold HB 577 in committee.