‘Marsy’s Law’ wins initial OK as state constitutional amendment

Florida crime rate (Large)

A proposed constitutional amendment to give equal rights to crime victims won preliminary approval from the full Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) on Monday.

Commissioners voted 30-3 to send the measure (P96) to the panel’s Style and Drafting Committee for preparation as a ballot question.

Hank Coxe, Arthenia Joyner and Bob Solari voted against it. The proposal still faces a final vote by the full commission.

It would approve a Marsy’s Law for Florida, named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas. The California woman was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only one week after her death, the accused murderer confronted Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, at a grocery store. The family was not informed that the accused was released on bail.

It’s supported by state Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, who was sexually abused for six years by her nanny. She has since formed Lauren’s Kids, an organization to prevent childhood sexual abuse and help survivors.

The amendment, if OK’d for the 2018 statewide ballot and passed by no less than 60 percent of voters, creates rights for victims or their surviving family members to be heard during certain court proceedings and to “full and timely restitution,” among others.

“I’m extremely proud that support (for the measure) is broad-based and bipartisan,” said Commissioner Tim Cerio, a Gov. Rick Scott appointee who sponsors the measure.

A staff analysis has noted that “many of the constitutional rights established by the proposal currently exist under Florida law,” a point echoed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which has called the measure “overly broad and unworkable in practice.”

Cerio acknowledged the criticism Tuesday, saying many provisions are on the books, “but are not followed.” Others are optional, he added, and not constitutionally required.

Commissioner and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martínez suggested the proposal could be an unfunded mandate, particularly when it comes to certain notice requirements.

“Clearly, there has to be some funding … but the impact may not be significant,” Cerio said.

Coxe, a Jacksonville attorney, was the most severe critic, calling Marsy’s Law “an insult” to every state attorney and sheriff in Florida.

CRC member Chris Nocco, Pasco County’s sheriff, soon countered: “I’m not insulted that he brought forward this idea.” Nocco has supported the plan.

“We are fixing a problem,” Cerio said after debate. “This is not a criticism of the system … It needs to be a beginning.”

Ultimately, the full CRC has to approve the proposal by at least 22 votes out of its 37 members. It then would have to be voted on at the November ballot.

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at [email protected].


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