Voters in Pennsylvania will decide Marsy’s Law, a type of constitutional bill of rights for crime victims, on November 5, 2019. The constitutional amendment was referred to the ballot on June 19, 2019, after a two-session legislative process.
The ballot measure would provide crime victims with specific constitutional rights, including a right to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim’s safety, dignity, and privacy; a right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt and final conclusion of the case; a right to have the safety of the victim and victim’s family considered when setting the bail amount and release conditions for the accused; and a right to full and timely restitution from the person or entity convicted.
In Pennsylvania, a majority vote is required in two successive sessions of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. In 2018, the state House and Senate both passed Marsy’s Law in unanimous votes. In 2019, the House voted 190-8 and the Senate voted 50-0. Of the eight state representatives to vote “No,” two were elected in November 2018, and thus weren’t seated to vote in 2018, and six switched their votes from the previous session.
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and State Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm, who former Gov. Tom Corbett (R) appointed in 2013, support Marsy’s Law. The ACLU of Pennsylvania opposes the constitutional amendment. Gov. Wolf said Marsy’s Law “will amend the state constitution to provide crime victims with equal protections and participation in the process. Victims and their families deserve equity.” Andy Hoover, the PA ACLU’s communications director, stated, “While our criminal justice system is far from perfect, the guarantees of both the Pennsylvania and U.S. Constitutions are intended to mitigate the mighty power of the state when a person is accused of a crime. Writing Marsy’s Law into Pennsylvania’s Constitution will further empower the state at the expense of the liberty of the person who is accused.”
As of 2019, 12 states had passed a ballot measure for Marsy’s Law. The first was in California in 2008. Between 2008 and 2018, voters had approved Marsy’s Law in Illinois (2014), Montana (2016), North Dakota (2016), South Dakota (2016), Ohio (2017), Florida (2018), Georgia (2018), Kentucky (2018), Nevada (2018), North Carolina (2018), and Oklahoma (2018). Wisconsin is scheduled to vote on Marsy’s Law on April 7, 2020. Marsy’s Law is named after Henry Nicholas’ sister, who was murdered in 1983.
Ballotpedia identified $102.26 million in total contributions to the support campaigns for the 12 Marsy’s Law ballot measures that were on ballots between 2008 and 2018. Henry Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., and the organization Marsy’s Law for All provided 97 percent—about 99.3 million—of the total contributions. Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania registered as a lobbyist in Pennsylvania, spending $848,960 between December 11, 2017, and March 31, 2019. The organization could register as a political action committee to support the constitutional amendment at the election.
The Pennsylvania Marsy’s Law is the 21st ballot measure certified for an election in 2019. Since 2009, an average of 30 ballot measures appeared on statewide ballots during odd-numbered years.