HARRISBURG – Lawmakers gave final approval to a bipartisan package of bills this week that will better protect the rights of crime victims and provide stronger protections for victims of violent offenses, according to Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), who supported the package.
The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 276, also known as Marsy’s Law, which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to include a crime victims’ bill of rights.
The bill would ensure crime victims have a constitutional right to notices of hearings and other proceedings, protection from the accused, notice of release or escape, full and timely restitution and other protections to help balance the rights of victims with the rights of criminals.
“This brings needed balance and fairness to the criminal justice process. There is a great public interest in community safety and security. This amendment and the other victims’ rights bills being advanced today will contribute to a greater sense of justice being served here in the commonwealth so victims do triumph with passage of House Bill 276. This is by no means the end of our work but we are certainly off to a tremendous start,” said Baker, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Senate and House each passed Marsy’s Law during the previous legislative session. Because the bill would amend the state Constitution, it must be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in order to become law. The referendum will appear on ballots across the state this fall.
“We have heard troubling stories from victims and their families. We have been provided with persuasive perspectives by victim advocates. So the answer then is to elevate victims’ rights through amending our state constitution,” Baker said.
Other bills approved by the Senate and sent to the Governor this week include:
- House Bill 315, which criminalizes the act of female genital mutilation.
- House Bill 502, which strengthens the right of crime victims to attend court proceedings.
- House Bill 504, which shields rape victims against irrelevant cross examinations.
The House of Representatives also sent three other victims’ rights bills to the Governor this week, including:
- Senate Bill 399, which creates a comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for survivors of sexual assault, including rights pertaining to the collection and use of evidence.
- Senate Bill 469, which would apply the existing Tender Years Exception – which allows certain out-of-court statements to be admissible as evidence – to include individuals with intellectual disabilities or autism.
- Senate Bill 479, sponsored by Sen. Baker, would expand the Tender Years Exception to apply to a wider variety of crimes, including serious sexual offenses. This exception currently only applies in cases of homicide, assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and a narrow number of sexual offenses.
The three Senate bills were part of a comprehensive crime victim protection package that was approved by the Senate in April in recognition of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
The Senate also this week approved Senate Bill 123, also known as Karen’s Law, which limits the number of times that victims of sexually violent crimes are forced to testify at parole hearings. Current law allows offenders to apply for parole every year, forcing victims to relive their attack on an annual basis. The bill would increase the time between parole hearings from one year to three years. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Contact: Andrew M. Seder firstname.lastname@example.org (570) 226-5960