DES MOINES, Iowa –Supporters who want to add victims’ rights to those guaranteed under Iowa’s constitution saw their efforts move forward through two early hurdles Tuesday at the Iowa Statehouse.
A house judicial subcommittee pushed ahead the proposed constitutional amendment in the morning. And then later in the afternoon, a house judicial committee voted in favor of sending to concept to the full house for debate.
Backers of the idea believe that even though many of the victims’ rights they seek are already law, they need to add the language into the constitution to ensure a change in lawmakers’ priorities during a different legislative session wouldn’t change those guaranteed rights later.
“If there is a constitutional right to be notified, present, heard, protected and collect restitution, then these have more strength than a law has,” State Representative Marti Anderson, a Des Moines Democrat said of the efforts.
But some victims’ rights organizations say that while this movement may sound good, it could actually have detrimental effects. “None of these things are free,” said Kerry True-Funk, associate director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, “With last year’s legislative session, there was a significant cut to victims’ services.”
CASA is one of 24 victims’ rights groups that have come out in opposition to the constitutional change. True-Funk believes the language would be too vague and not provide the direction the legal system needs to truly guarantee victims’ rights and that there could be additional strain on the resources that advocacy groups provide.
Supporters believe much of the notification of changes in an offenders’ status in the court system could be provided through existing resources and wouldn’t require a lot of additional dollars. They also point to the fact that this effort isn’t just something happening in Iowa.
At least five other states have already approved the idea, which is known as Marsy’s Law. The law is named in honor of Marsy Nicholas, who was stalked and murdered by an ex-boyfriend in California.
If the Iowa Legislature agrees on Marsy’s Law this session, another legislature in 2019 or 2020 would also have to approve it. That means the proposed constitutional amendment would not go before voters until at least 2020.