A bill aimed at protecting the rights of crime victims advanced out of state House committee 19-4 Thursday, with Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the tally.
Marsy’s Law, introduced by Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, would not create any new rights. Instead, it would amend Pennsylvania’s Constitution to enshrine existing laws that inform victims of trials, hearing dates, and their right to attend and participate.
Delozier, who was integral in the passage of the state’s Clean Slate law, said criminal justice reform and addressing victims’ rights go hand in hand.
“We need balance in the system and [to] allow for victims to have a voice in the system,” she told the House Judiciary Committee before the vote.
The measure, part of a national initiative named for a woman murdered in California in 1983, has already passed in 11 states. It also has the backing of the state district attorneys association and Pennsylvania’s Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm.
Storm said under current law, victims have no recourse if a district attorney’s office or other agency does not inform them of a hearing or release date.
Democratic members including Rep. Mike Zabel, D-Delaware, and Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, asked whether an amendment to the state Constitution is necessary to ensure victims are properly notified of their assailants’ status in the justice system.
To accomplish that, Miller said that the state needs to recommit itself financially to district attorneys’ offices that “have so much to juggle” as is.
“I think there’s are a lot of potential for unintended consequences,” Zabel added, echoing concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
The bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously last session. It needs to pass both the House and Senate again this session to become a ballot referendum. Should the voters approve it, the constitution would be amended.
There has not been a hearing on the proposal, but advocates downplayed the need for one, pointing to the bill’s unanimous approval last session. A motion to have a hearing was defeated in a party line vote.