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Voters in six states pass Marsy’s Law through same process that failed in N.H.

  • According to the “Marsy’s Law for New Hampshire” Twitter account, there were 2,367 purple flags outside the State House representing the number of violent crimes committed in 2016. The full House voted on the bill on Thursday, April 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file



Monitor staff
Thursday, November 08, 2018

Voters in six states said “yes” on Election Day to Marsy’s Law, leaving just nine other states, including New Hampshire, without constitutional protections for crime victims.

A version of Marsy’s Law passed Tuesday in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Those states join five others – California, Illinois, Ohio, North Dakota and South Dakota – in backing the constitutional amendment, which provides protections for crime victims that are equal to the rights afforded to the accused and convicted.

While voters in 11 states have specifically approved a variation of the Marsy’s Law amendment, 30 other states have some form of victims’ rights included in their constitutions.

Marsy’s Law is named for the late Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. After her murder, her family set out to ensure equal rights for crime victims across the United States, beginning in their home state of California, which was first to pass the comprehensive constitutional victims’ rights law in 2008. Since then, Marsy’s brother, California billionaire Henry Nicholas, has funded similar efforts in other states, including New Hampshire.

State representatives overwhelmingly defeated Marsy’s Law on the House floor in late April in a 284-51 vote. The measure needed the support of 235 of the state’s 391 representatives at that time to advance and be placed on the ballot Tuesday for voters’ consideration.

Those who shot down the measure said they didn’t understand the need for a constitutional amendment when New Hampshire has one of the strongest Victim Bill of Rights already on the books. Further, some opponents adamantly opposed the idea of a high-powered lobbying campaign bankrolled by an out-of-state billionaire with no clear local ties.

Conversely, proponents of Marsy’s Law said enforceable protections for crime victims are long overdue to ensure them a voice in the criminal justice process and the opportunity to receive notifications as cases progress, regardless of whether it’s a felony or misdemeanor prosecution. Crime victims, advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement officials testified during legislative hearings that the Victim Bill of Rights falls short and will always be trumped by a defendant’s constitutional rights.

Despite the defeat this spring, supporters of an amendment said they’ll wage on.

In all six states where Marsy’s Law passed Tuesday, the amendment was first approved by lawmakers before making its way to the ballot, said Henry Goodwin, national communications advisor for Marsy’s Law for All.

“We were in most of these states for two years, from start date through the election,” Goodwin said. “The exceptions were Georgia, which took three years, and Florida where we spent one year.”

In Georgia, several amended versions of Marsy’s Law were considered by legislative committees in the first couple of years, he said. By year three, a polished version went before the full Legislature and passed, allowing it to be placed on the ballot for voters’ consideration.

The national Marsy’s Law campaign is active in six of the nine states that currently do not have constitutional amendments for crime victims. New Hampshire remains on that list for now.

“Each year, there is a formal assessment done which guides our future actions and helps us determine whether we’ll press ahead in those particular states,” Goodwin said.

He said he could not recall a time Marsy’s Law ever completely withdrew from a state and went back.

“Generally, we’ll keep trying to build the coalition of support,” he said. “There is always an effort to be undertaken and sometimes it can take many, many years.”

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at adandrea@cmonitor.com.)