State Politics

Idaho lawmakers again try to enact Marsy’s Law for crime victims, but might face resistance

Idaho lawmakers will attempt to enact new constitutional protections for victims of crime for the third year in a row, but they might see some pushback again from attorneys and survivor groups.

This year’s resolution was introduced last week in the Senate State Affairs Committee, and it again is being called Marsy’s Law for Idaho. It is being backed by Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, marking the first time a Democrat has co-sponsored the measure.

If it passes, the resolution would amend Idaho’s 1994 Victim Rights Amendment by requiring that victims be notified of court proceedings, have a voice in those proceedings and several other requirements. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it requires a two-thirds vote of support in the Senate and House before it can be put on a ballot for voters to make the ultimate decision.

The legislation takes its name from Marsy Nicholas, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. One week after she was killed, her killer was released on bail without her family’s knowledge and confronted her mother and brother. Several other states have passed Marsy’s Law, starting with California, and seen some legal complications.

Similar legislation in Idaho failed to pass in 2017 and 2018 after opponents questioned whether the bills would unintentionally diminish the voice of some victims. On Wednesday, supporters of Marsy’s Law spoke at the Statehouse to stress their support for what is Senate Joint Resolution 101.

Lakey said at the rally that “Marsy’s Law is and has always been about giving victims an effective voice.”

Buckner-Webb also spoke at the rally, saying she wanted to see everyone in the state treated with respect, including crime victims.

“We work for you,” she told rally supporters. “Speak for the voices of those who cannot speak for themselves, and let’s get this legislation passed.”

Supporters of Marsy’s Law stress that they are not trying to outweigh the rights of defendants who are not yet convicted, but defense attorneys have questioned the proposed changes. Last year, opponents raised concerns about victims being able to speak at court hearings before a suspect is convicted.

Additionally, advocates for sexual assault survivors raised concern last year about how a “victim” was defined. The legislation pitched this year has narrowed the scope to no longer include “an entity” as a victim, but only an “individual who suffers direct or threatened physical, financial or emotional harm.”

A date for the resolution’s next hearing has not been set. It still must go before the Senate State Affairs Committee, where public testimony will be taken, before it can advance to the floor.

The fiscal note with the legislation states that an economic analysis estimated it could cost around $553,000 annually for counties and local government to implement Marsy’s Law, but researchers believe it could be less, according to the bill’s statement of purpose.

There’s also an estimated cost of $205,000 from the general fund for the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office to publish the proposed amendment on a ballot in the next election, should it pass the Legislature.

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Reporter Ruth Brown covers the criminal justice and correctional systems in Idaho. She focuses on breaking news, public safety and social justice. Prior to coming to the Idaho Statesman, she was a reporter at the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Bakersfield Californian and the Idaho Falls Post Register.