By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Advocates of a proposal to amend Idaho's constitution to strengthen its crime victims' bill of rights said Monday that the statewide cost would be less than 1 percent of what the state already spends on public safety each year.
The new economic analysis comes just weeks before Idaho lawmakers are expected to gather in Boise to kick off the 2018 legislation session. Along with setting the state budget and discussing possible tax cuts, lawmakers will once again consider sending the so-called "Marsy's Law" to the ballot next year.
The proposal would change Idaho's 1994 Victim Rights Amendment by requiring victims to be timely notified of all court proceedings involving suspects, as well as allowing victims be heard at each step of the legal process.
It also would declare that full and timely restitution from economic losses due to a crime is not only a right but also should be prioritized. The definition of a crime victim would include "any person or entity directly and proximately harmed" by the crime.
Opponents of the proposal have long warned of the costly unintended consequences, an argument that ultimately helped kill a similar proposal during the 2017 session. Monday's analysis was an effort to counter those concerns.
According to research economists with the consulting firm ECONorthwest, it would cost the state $553,000 annually to implement the changes. In comparison, Idaho lawmakers allocated $326 million for public safety in the fiscal year 2017 budget — this includes the Idaho Department of Correction, Department of Juvenile Corrections, Idaho State police and state's judicial branch.
"While we know additional resources would be required, knowing the magnitude of such resources is a challenge empirically," the report stated. "Some counties are unlikely to experience any substantial increase in resources required, as current efforts to notify victims are already aligned with the requirements of Marsy's Law."
The report estimated the state would have to hire roughly 13 full-time employees to manage the new victim notification requirements throughout the state's 44 counties as outlined under the new proposal. The report did not specify which counties would have to hire a new employee.
"From the outset, we've anticipated there would be minimal costs associated with strengthening and updating victims' rights here in Idaho, and this study confirms that," said Sen. Todd Lakey, a Nampa Republican and lead sponsor of Mary's Law, in a prepared statement.
During the 2017 session, Lakey had estimated the cost of the bill would be around $205,000. That amount, however, only applied to putting the issue on the ballot and did not consider hiring extra resources to help implement the changes.
Leo Morales, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, called the report "premature."
The ACLU voiced concerns during the 2017 session of potential problems an expanded victims' rights amendment could cause and argued that the current system would be served with better funding.
For example, the ACLU has argued that the state already has a history of failing to protect the constitutional right of defendants and has faced legal challenges.
"We anticipate the cost to be much higher," Morales said. "When you think of the expanded definition of a victim and possible enforcement, the cost of this bill could be in the millions."
Similar proposals have been approved in Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, and efforts are under way to have the proposal placed on ballots in nine other states, including Oklahoma.
A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds support from the House and Senate, as well as a simple majority from voters.
Marsy's Law is named for a California woman killed in 1983 by her ex-boyfriend, who then was released on bail without notice to her family; family members were unexpectedly confronted by the killer in a grocery store after a visit to the young woman’s grave, a week after the murder.