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Marsy's Law suffers setback in House committee

State House Bureau

April 18. 2018 9:05PM

CONCORD — Supporters of efforts to amend the state Constitution to include a victims’ bill of rights suffered a significant setback in the House on Wednesday.

Meeting in joint session, the House Judiciary and Criminal Justice committees voted 24-11 to recommend the full House kill the proposed constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law.

Supporters of the measure, which passed the Senate, hope to overturn the committee recommendation on the House floor.

The amendment will need a three-fifths majority vote in the House of Representatives to be included on the ballot this fall. If it gets on the November ballot, voters will have to endorse the proposition by a two-thirds majority to amend the constitution.

The measure came to the House with the endorsement of the state Senate in a 20-3 vote on March 22, well within the 15-vote margin required for a constitutional amendment in that chamber.

But House members had different ideas, as evidenced by the debate on Wednesday.

In an emotionally charged session, House lawmakers described their own experiences as victims of crime, both in support of and opposition to the amendment. Rep. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, struggled to maintain her composure as she recalled the testimony of the many victims who came before the committees.

“They came here and bled on the floor in front of all of us and said they just want to be heard,” she said. “There is momentum, the will and the need for this amendment, and the people deserve to have their vote.”

The joint committee heard a presentation from Attorney General Gordon MacDonald earlier in the day on proposed changes to the amendment that supporters had hoped would address some of the opponents’ concerns.

But when the time came to vote, the amendment was not introduced. Instead, Rep. Paul Berch, D-Westmoreland, moved that the bill be reported to the full House as “inexpedient to legislate.”

“I don’t think it can be saved, and I don’t think it should be saved,” he said. “It has so many problems, it should be a statute so we can fix problems as they arise, and not do what South Dakota is doing ... passing a second amendment to undo the first amendment.”

While some representatives argued that voters should have the final say on the matter, opponents of the bill pointed to the estimated $2 million that would be spent by the national organization promoting the effort.

“The proponents for this have so much money, that if this gets on the ballot, it absolutely will pass,” said state Rep. Gary Hopper, R-Weare.

“They have millions and millions of dollars to sink into advertising, and the only thing voters will recall is the governor talking to victims who are very upset and emotional. But this is a constitutional amendment. We can’t decide it on emotion. We have to decide it on reason.”

Gov. Chris Sununu has been a supporter of the measure, leading the roll-out at a State House news conference and later testifying before House and Senate committees.

“Today’s vote is disappointing,” he said. “I believe the amendment brought forward by Attorney General Gordon MacDonald adequately addressed the concerns of the committee, and it is my hope that as the legislature becomes more familiar with this compromise prior to the full House vote, lawmakers will ultimately support Marsy’s Law and stand with victims of crime and their families.”

Marsy’s Law would create a constitutional right for victims of crime to receive reasonable and timely notification of all proceedings in their case, to be heard at those proceedings, to be informed of the release or escape of the accused or convicted, and to be eligible for restitution.

The earliest the bill could come before the full House is on April 26.

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Thank you, Sununu