Gov. Reynolds supports victims' rights amendment to Iowa constitution

Governor Kim Reynolds announced Monday her support for Marsy's Law, a constitutional amendment establishing a victims' bill of rights in Iowa. (Caroline Cummings)

Governor Kim Reynolds announced her support for a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a victims' bill of rights.

There are efforts in both the Iowa House and Senate—House Joint Resolution 2003 and Senate Study Bill 3040— are modeled after Marsy's Law, California's Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008. The Marsy's Law movement began in 1983 after Marsy Nicholas, a California college student, was stalked and killed her ex-boyfriend.

Only 15 states don't have constitutional provisions protecting victims' rights; Iowa is one of those states that doesn't have these protections enumerated in its constitution, Governor Kim Reynolds said at her weekly press conference Monday.

Reynolds touted bipartisan support for the effort.

"It's clear that equal rights for crime victims is a critical bipartisan issue," Reynolds said.

Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, and Rep. Martin Anderson, D-Des Moines, joined Reynolds at the capitol. Together, they are sponsoring legislation in the Iowa House.

Hinson recalled hearing a victim's testimony at a subcommittee hearing on the bill last week, saying it resonated with her. “It’s time to change the culture and I believe we change that culture by changing the constitution of our state," she said.

Anderson , who has been a victims' rights advocate for decades, said that Iowa laws already protect the rights of victims—which include the right to reasonable protection from the accused; right to be heard with notice of proceedings; and the right to restitution resulting from the financial impact of the crime—but that an amendment is essential to ensure that these protections remain permanent.

“It’s not that we don’t have great laws. It’s that laws can be tempered with and laws can be changed," Anderson said. "I don't want the rights of crime victims to be diminished."

Some victims' groups who oppose it told a House and Senate panels last wee that would an amendment would be a symbolic gesture that would not actually address needs of victims. Others say it could undermine due process rights.

Neither the House nor Senate proposals advanced out of subcommittee last week, but Hinson said that she and others are working on the language of the bill that had some attorneys concerned. She said updated versions could be put to another subcommittee vote as soon as Tuesday and could then move onto a full committee hearing.

"We must do all we can to preserve defendants' rights while at the same time ensure victims have equally protected rights," Hinson said.

Legislation would have to pass both the House and Senate this year and again within the next two upcoming legislative sessions before it would appear on statewide ballots for voter input on the measure.

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