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Senators push through victim rights bill not ready for passage to ‘keep it moving’

The North Carolina Senate rules committee unanimously pushed through a victims’ rights bill Monday acknowledging that it wasn’t ready to become law and still needed a lot of work.

“We’re just kind of trying to keep it moving so we can make the deadline of the constitution,” said Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Avery, Burke, Caldwell).

He was referring to Senate Bill 682, a measure that would implement the crime victims amendment otherwise known as Marsy’s Law. Lawmakers have had since January to pass such a bill, but SB 682 wasn’t introduced until last week. It has to be passed by Aug. 31, when the amendment becomes effective.

The bill currently requires that victims of certain crimes be given notice of all criminal court proceedings, grants them a constitutional right to address the court at those proceedings and creates a process for victims who are unhappy with their cases to submit a complaint to district attorneys and then to the court if necessary.

Warren, a bill sponsor, said its current form was not fully supported by victims rights advocates, the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts or the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys. He added that they’ve all submitted amendments and that lawmakers were working to make the bill better.

Peg Dorer, Director of the Conference of District Attorneys, estimated about two weeks ago that it would cost approximately $10 million over a period of years to implement Marsy’s Law.

SB 682 does not contain a fiscal note. There is also no money in the General Assembly’s proposed budget to implement the amendment. Dorer said there is a grant for 150 victim service coordinators but that money would run out over a couple years.

The biggest changes the amendment will require, she said are twofold: “(1) it will substantially increase the number of crimes that will require victims’ rights in that it adds all felony property crimes, and (2) the constitutional amendment allows for a victim to assert their rights. We do not know how that process will work and what will be the ramifications if their rights are not met appropriately.”

“District Attorneys will continue to serve victims, as we do now, to the best of out abilities,” she said in an email. “However, without the necessary resources, we are concerned that not all victims will receive the appropriate notices.”

Other than some back-and-forth about the short “time fuse” lawmakers are working with to implement Marsy’s Law, there was no substantive discussion about SB 682. It was passed through the committee unanimously on a voice vote.

GOP lawmakers pushed hard in the fall to get the Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment on the ballot. Supporters of the amendment said victims needed teeth in the law to assert their rights. Opponents said victims’ rights already were enshrined in the constitution and enhancing them should be done by statute, not by an experimental amendment.

The Marsy’s Law campaign in North Carolina spent nearing $8 million to push for passage of the amendment. It passed with 62 percent of the vote.

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