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Backers of Idaho victims rights amendment say they’ll be back next year

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, speaks out in favor of a crime victim rights constitutional amendment on Thursday, joined by state officials, prosecutors, law enforcement representatives and crime victims. At left are Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, Sen. Chuck Winder, and Gov. Butch Otter; at right in the black hat is Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue. (Betsy Z. Russell)

BOISE – Backers of a sweeping constitutional amendment on victims rights say they’ll be back next year, after an Idaho House committee rejected the amendment this year following days of emotional hearings.

“The impact is so deep on a victim,” Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said Thursday, as he gathered with victim advocates, law enforcement representatives and others for a ceremony in which Gov. Butch Otter proclaimed this week “Idaho Crime Victim Rights Week.”

The proposed constitutional amendment passed the Senate unanimously, but died after hearings that stretched over three days in the House State Affairs Committee.

Lakey said a broad group of stakeholders, including the organization Marsy’s Law for Idaho, prosecutors, law enforcement and victim advocates, worked to craft the amendment, which would expand Idaho’s existing crime victim rights provisions. Those were added to the Idaho Constitution by voters in 1994.

Idaho was a leader when it first enacted its crime victim rights amendment, Lakey said. But, he said, “Over the past 20 years, our provisions are in need of update – we’ve fallen behind.” He said the intent is to “make sure that the victim has an effective voice in the criminal justice process.”

Marsy’s Law is the name for a California constitutional amendment enacted in 2008, named for a woman who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week later, the victim’s brother and mother, after visiting her grave, were confronted by the accused murderer in a grocery store; they hadn’t been notified that he’d been released on bail. That prompted the brother, Henry Nicholas, to form a foundation for victims rights and push for Marsy’s Law and similar provisions in other states. Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota have since adopted similar laws.

The Idaho Constitution already declares that victims of crime in Idaho have a series of rights, including the right “to be treated with fairness, respect, dignity and privacy throughout the criminal justice process” and rights to prior notification of criminal proceedings, to be present at all proceedings, to be heard upon request at sentencing or release hearings, to refuse contact with the defendant or the defendant’s agent unless authorized by law, and to read pre-sentence reports.

The proposed constitutional amendment would expand that to require “reasonable and timely” notification to victims of all proceedings and of news that the offender has escaped or absconded; an opportunity to be present and to be heard upon request at all proceedings; more restitution guarantees; expanded protection from contact with victims or their agents, even when otherwise legally required; and a guarantee of “reasonable and timely” access to pre-sentence reports. It also would allow victims to assert their rights in court and require courts to respond “promptly.”

To amend the Idaho Constitution, the measure would need two-thirds support in both houses of the Legislature, plus majority approval from voters at the next general election. The proposed ballot measure would ask voters if they support amending the Idaho Constitution “to provide equal rights to victims of crimes including the right to notification of court proceedings, reasonable protection from the accused, and a voice in the criminal justice process.”

Defense attorneys and the ACLU of Idaho were among those objecting to the bill during the House committee hearings this year. Crime victims, prosecutors and law enforcement representatives spoke in favor of it. Committee members had lots of questions and eventually defeated the measure on a 10-5 vote.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, one of the opponents, wrote on Facebook, “We just killed a heavily marketed proposed constitutional amendment in my State Affairs committee. It was sold as an amendment to ‘help the victims’ but there were major issues with the language and the unintended consequences. Democrats and Republicans joined forces to kill this resolution!”

Lakey said he hopes to work with House members next year to address their concerns.

“Obviously we need to do a little more work on the House side,” he said. “If there are some updates to the language … we’re open to that.”

Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, spoke out Thursday in favor of the amendment and of the proclamation of Idaho Crime Victims Rights Week, saying everyone is touched by crime.

“The voices of victims must not be silenced,” she said. “Their voices deserve to be heard and respected throughout the criminal justice process.”

Lakey said if there are additional costs to provide the notifications and assistance to victims outlined in the amendment, “we need to fund that.”