FRANKFORT, KY – The Kentucky Senate approved a bill on Tuesday that would enshrine in the Kentucky Constitution certain rights for crime victims.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, explaining Senate Bill 15, a proposed constitutional amendment enshrining certain rights for crime victims.
The measure, known as Senate Bill 15, would include the right to be notified of all criminal court proceedings involving the accused, reasonable protection from the accused, timely notice of the release or escape of the accused and the right to full restitution to be paid by the convicted.
SB 15 is tied to a national movement to pass statutes that have been collectively known as "Marsy's law." It's in honor of Marsy Nicholas, a 21-year-old California college student who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend. Such laws have been enacted in at least 10 states, including neighboring Illinois and Ohio.
"The prosecutorial and judicial discretion that exists today will exist with Marsy's law in effect," said sponsor Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton. "But those victims will have a voice that is protected in our constitution. And they deserve that – all the tens of thousands of them that Kentucky sees every year."
He said those same victims are too often re-traumatized by the very system that is supposed to find a "just" outcome to the criminal experience they have endured.
Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said Westerfield, did a good job of articulating the pain of crime victims.
"As a retired law enforcement officer ... I know that is a very real pain," Schickel said. "I've seen it many times. But the simple matter of fact is this constitutional amendment recommended to voters is a grave error."
He said there is no consensus among the legal community on SB 15, there are already laws protecting crime victims and the constitution should not be altered from its original purpose – protecting citizens from the overreach of government.
Another former law enforcement officer, Sen. Danny Carroll, stood in support of SB 15. He said the bill is needed because we live in a time where the state is expunging criminal records, restoring felons' voting rights and decriminalizing crimes.
"I think we owe it to the victims to at least give them the satisfaction of being involved in the case," said Carroll, R-Paducah, adding that those victims deserve the same rights afforded the accused.
A similar proposed constitutional amendment passed the General Assembly in 2018 and was subsequently approved by voters, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the law was invalid due to unconstitutional ballot language.
Westerfield said the only thing significantly different this session is that SB 15 would also ensure victims have the right to be heard and notified in the consideration of any pardon, commutation of sentence or granting of a reprieve. He said that provision was added after concerns were raised after the former governor granted hundreds of pardons in the final hours of his administration.
SB 15 was approved 31-6 with one "pass" vote. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration. If it also clears that chamber, it would be placed on the November ballot.