House sends crime victims' rights amendment to state Senate
Photo by Tim Lambert/WITF
(Harrisburg) — A proposal to enshrine the rights of crime victims in the Pennsylvania Constitution was approved overwhelmingly Monday in the state House, moving it a Senate vote away from going before voters in a referendum.
Pennsylvania’s proposed version of Marsy’s Law, which passed 190-8, would give victims the right to be notified, to attend and to weigh in during plea hearings, sentencings and parole proceedings.
Supporters say the amendment will help ensure victims are not ignored during court proceedings.
But opponents warned it could infringe on the rights of criminal defendants to get a fair and speedy trial. They argue that its wording is vague and that it’s difficult to predict how judges will enforce it.
“If you put it into a constitutional amendment, that’s a very rigid thing and hard to change,” said Rep. Greg Vitali, R-Delaware. “And if you realize there are unintended consequences to what you’ve done as far as changing the constitution, it’s a very difficult thing to change.”
It passed both legislative chambers in the past session, so Senate approval later this year could put it on the ballot in November.
Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Philadelphia, said there are not sufficient resources to provide notice to victims of all relevant court proceedings.
“This bill does not address the fact that even if we make the changes that are proposed in this bill, there could still be families that do not get the notification, and there is nothing in this particular bill that addresses that,” Dawkins said.
A 2-decade-old law grants Pennsylvania crime victims access to services and information about hearings and the offender’s release from incarceration. The proposed amendment would give victims legal standing to go to court if those existing rights are violated, according to the state district attorneys’ association.
The Department of State has said the referendum could make the November ballot if it passes the Senate, gets reviewed by the attorney general’s office and is ready to be advertised by Aug. 5. If voters approve, it would take effect at the start of 2020.