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Idaho victims' rights advocates preparing for 2018 session

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Idaho's legislative leaders announced Monday they have attracted strong support from lawmakers and law enforcement agencies in their pursuit to reintroduce a proposal amending the state's constitution to expand rights of crime victims during the 2018 session.

"We have the need and opportunity in Idaho to strengthen crime victims' rights in our constitution," said Senate Majority Caucus Chair Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, who introduced a version earlier this year inside the Idaho Statehouse. It did not make it out of a House committee.

"The victim must have an opportunity to have their voices heard and considered in the criminal justice system," he added.

Groups supporting the measure include the Idaho Fraternal Order of Police, the Idaho Sheriff's Association and Idaho Council on Domestic Violence and Victim Assistance.

The proposal — with almost the exact same wording as last year's version — would change the Victim Rights Amendment in Idaho's constitution, which voters ratified in 1994. The current amendment details rights for victims. But advocates of the change have said it does not do enough and need to be updated.

Under Lakey's amendment, victims would have to be notified in a "reasonable and timely" manner of all court proceedings involving suspects and be heard at each step of the legal process.

It also would declare that full and timely restitution from economic losses due to a crime is not only a right but also should be prioritized. The definition of a crime victim would include "any person or entity directly and proximately harmed" by the crime.

During Monday's press conference, a young woman shared her testimony of being raped when she was 14 by an 18-year-old man nearly five years ago who was convicted.

At the man's parole hearing, she said she had to sit in the same waiting area as his relatives until she was moved to a cafeteria to be separate from them. The woman said she didn't received proper notice about the second parole hearing.

"Through nearly all of the court proceedings in the last five years, I have been treated lesser than my rapist, I support strengthening victims' rights in Idaho's constitution to ensure others like me do not have to deal with a similar experience in what has to be the most difficult time in their life," she said.

The Associated Press generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse.

The proposal passed the Idaho Senate unanimously during this year's legislative session, but stalled in the House after a legislative panel spent days listening to testimony and debating the bill's merits.

The bill eventually failed 10-5 in the House State Affairs Committee after critics — including the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho — argued that the proposal would increase workloads and create a financial burden on already cash-strapped criminal justice system.

House Majority Assistant Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said Monday that Lakey's proposal will begin in the House in 2018. It will be up to House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley — a supporter of the amendment — to determine if the proposal will have to clear the House State Affairs panel or be funneled to another committee.

The amendment, called Marsy's Law for Idaho, is named for a California woman killed in 1983 by her ex-boyfriend after he was released from jail without her being notified.

Her brother, Henry Nicholas, has financed the effort to expand it to more states.

Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota have adopted similar amendments.

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