Crime victims proposal Marsy’s Law now on its way to Pennsylvania voters

Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm speaks at a rally for crime victims in the Pa. Capitol rotunda on April 8, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

A bill that would enshrine the rights of crime victims in Pennsylvania’s Constitution passed the state Senate unanimously on Wednesday.

Voters will have their say on the proposal, known as Marsy’s Law, in November.

Pennsylvania statute already provides robust protections for crime victims, including the right to be notified of and to participate in court proceedings. The proposal does not create new laws, but rather provides victims with more recourse if their rights are violated, proponents say.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said that while passing Marsy’s Law “is by no means the end of our work … we’re off to a tremendous start.”

She pointed to the other victim’s rights measures the General Assembly has pushed this session, some of which are nearly ready for the governor’s signature.

Public defenders and the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union oppose Marsy’s Law, saying it will imperil the due process rights of people accused of crimes.

The idea that constitutional rights for victims can exist without trampling on the rights of defendants “is well intentioned but impossible,” Bradley Winnock, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, previously told the Capital-Star.

‘Well intentioned but impossible:’ Why critics say Marsy’s Law will undermine the rights of the accused

The Marsy’s Law campaign — named for a murdered California teen — successfully pushed constitutional amendments in six states in 2018 alone.

Gov. Tom Wolf supports the proposal. But it’s Pennsylvania voters who will get the final say.

To amend the state Constitution, a bill must pass both chambers of the Legislature in two consecutive sessions. Marsy’s Law met that benchmark Wednesday, after passing the state House in April.

It will now appear on the November ballot statewide for voter consideration.

Jennifer Riley, state director for Marsy’s Law in Pennsylvania, said Wednesday internal polling shows broad-based support for the measure, cutting across party and regional lines.

If enacted, Pennsylvania would be the 12th state to put Marsy’s Law on the books.

Capital-Star staff reporter Stephen Caruso contributed to this story.

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