Lawmakers announce next steps for Marsy’s Law
Measure to provide equal constitutional protections for crime victims, which was approved unanimously in 2018, enters second legislative session
HARRISBURG (January 29, 2019) — Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) today announced that she has introduced a bill to launch the second year in the Marsy’s Law legislative effort, which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to protect victims’ rights. Sen. John Sabatina (D-Philadelphia) will be introducing the bill in the Senate during this legislative session.
House Bill 276 is the second step in ensuring that crime victims in Pennsylvania are constitutionally protected. For the state constitution to be amended, legislation must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions before being added to the ballot for voter approval.
The announcement of the House bill was made in the Capitol Rotunda before a crowd that included crime victims, supporters, lawmakers, district attorneys, law enforcement officials and community leaders.
"People have been made part of the judicial system, not through anything they did, but through something that someone else did. Someone did something to them to make them a victim," Rep. Delozier said of crime victims during her remarks at the event.
"They didn't ask to be part of this system, so why shouldn't this system at least treat them fairly and equally to what it is that their accuser is getting? I think that is only fair and is something that we should be asking for," she added.
During the 2017-18 legislative session, Marsy’s Law (Senate Bill 1011), sponsored by then-State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny/Washington), passed unanimously in the state Senate and the House.
The Pennsylvania Constitution enumerates rights for individuals accused and convicted of crimes, but victims have no enumerated rights in the constitution and, therefore, no recourse when their statutory rights are violated.
"A lot of people think it ends at arrest or at conviction, but a lot of victims have to live with that crime and the results of that crime for the rest of their lives," Sen. Sabatina said at the press conference. "It's important not to forget what they have been through, and it is important to support them."
Marsy’s Law passed constitutional amendments in six states in 2018: Nevada, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. With the implementation of Marsy’s Law in those states, Pennsylvania became one of only nine states that does not incorporate victims’ rights into its constitution. In 2015, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency reported more than 40,000 violent crimes and nearly 845,000 crimes overall. The proposed constitutional amendment would ensure crime victims have the rights to:
Receive information about their rights
Receive notification of proceedings in their criminal cases
Be present at court proceedings
Be heard at plea and sentencing proceedings
Assert additional statutory rights
Be treated with fairness, respect and dignity
"Today is the day that we stop failing our crime victims. It is the day that we stop promising them something, and then not fulfilling that promise," Jennifer Storm, Commonwealth Victim Advocate said. "It gives them equal footing. We're not asking for anything less, or anything more."
Statewide, the measure has been endorsed by victims’ services groups, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, the Pennsylvania State Constables Association and the Philadelphia City Council, among others.
"Providing constitutional protections to victims through Marsy's Law is a way to guarantee their equal and protected voice," said Kevin Steele, Montgomery County District Attorney, during his remarks. "I urge legislators to stand up for victims, and once again, in this session, vote for Marsy's Law."
With significant legislative support, Marsy’s Law is expected to pass both chambers by June, allowing for the measure to appear on the November 2019 ballot for consideration by Pennsylvania voters.