Marsy's Law Passes Senate With 34 to 1 Vote

Posted on January 10, 2018

     The Senate has passed its first bill of the 2018 legislative session — Senate Bill 3. The bill, known as Marsy’s Law, calls for a referendum in the 2018 general election that would allow voters to decide on an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution to guarantee victims of crimes certain rights. The bill passed out of the Senate Committee on State and Local Government Wednesday afternoon and called on the Senate floor just a few hours later. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville), says he feels confident of the bill’s passage this session.

     Before senators voted on the bill, Westerfield spoke to the group, telling them 23,785 felony cases resulted in a conviction in Kentucky last year. “For each of those 23, almost 24,000 cases, there’s at least one victim, and for many of those there’s more than one victim, and right now in Kentucky those victims have inadequate rights or no rights at all,” he said. “The system treats them as pure witnesses, and not as a valuable part of the system — as they should be.” The vote on the Senate floor was 34 to 1 to pass the bill. It now goes to the House.

     Kentucky is one of only 15 states that does not currently provide some type of victims’ rights protection. After the vote, Senator Westerfield told reporters he believes the result indicates the strong support the bill has among lawmakers and the public. “I think you’ll find that same sort of support in the House, and I think you’ll see that same sort of support from voters in November.”

     When asked if he’s confident the bill can get through, Westerfield replied, “Yes, I am confident.” He made it clear the bill has bipartisan support. “There were 21 cosponsors on the first day, from both caucuses. And, if it would have started in the House you would have seen the exact same thing. It’s not Whitney Westerfield’s bill, it is the Senate’s bill and 34 senators from across the commonwealth think it should be one of the amendments that goes on the ballot this November.” The bill has 23 cosponsors, 17 Republicans and six Democrats.

     Marsy’s Law Kentucky would give crime victims various constitutional rights. Those include the right to receive timely notice of public proceedings; the right to be heard in proceedings that involve the victim; the right to be present at court proceedings that are free from unreasonable delays; protection from the accused and people advocating for the accused; the right to full and timely restitution; and the right to fairness and due consideration for the protection, dignity and privacy of the victim. The law would also require victims be informed of their rights and would allow them to go before the courts to enforce those rights.

     The KLC Board of Directors voted to support Marsy’s Law this past summer. At a hearing back in September, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) remarked that while several potential constitutional ballot issues may be up for consideration this year, he believed Marsy’s Law was a top priority. Thayer is one of the bill’s cosponsors.

     After the bill passed, Senator Westerfield recognized crime victims who watched the vote in the Senate gallery. He told lawmakers, “It’s time to stand up for crime victims in Kentucky.” If passed, the law would result in a referendum on the November ballot that would ask: “Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to victims of crime, including the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and the right to be informed and to have a voice in the judicial process?” Amendments to the state constitution must be approved by a majority of voters.