What would you buy if you were a billionaire?

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What do billionaires buy in today’s “everything is for sale” market? Well in Idaho it seems like one out of state billionaire is trying to buy a change to the Idaho State constitution. Changing a State’s constitution is a BIG deal and should never be taken lightly or rushed. Any proposed constitutional change should be well thought out, clearly and concisely worded and intensely vetted, leaving no loop holes or gray areas.

Marsy’s Law is a national campaign being bank rolled by Mr. Henry Nicholas III, a California billionaire, who is trying to insert a “bill of rights” for victims into states’ constitutions across the country. Five states have already enacted this constitutional change and are already experiencing problems with the vague language. Idaho already defines the rights of crime victims in Article 1 Section 22 of our state constitution.

Last year during the last few weeks of session, Idaho State legislators were lobbied hard by Mr. Nicholas’s group for passage of the same bill. Marsy’s Law is legislation to change the Idaho state constitution by putting language in that appears on the surface, to help victims. Last year’s constitutional change would have added business and corporations to the “victim’s list” of who could be given victim status. The bill stalled in early 2017 but that did not deter the lobbyists from pumping more lobby dollars into a massive advertising campaign across the state for this issue.

While the total amount of money pumped into Idaho has been concealed, other states such as Ohio ($8.7M), South Dakota ($2M), Montana ($2.4M) Illinois ($5M) and North Dakota ($2.5M) have had millions of dollars pumped into their states for advertising campaigns for this constitutional change. Whenever there is this much money being spent on an issue and it is being done across multiple states, it generally is a precursor to a bigger national agenda.

Because of this law’s lack of transparency and current legal issues already cropping up in states who have adopted it, I believe this would be a bad move on the national level as it would grow government and reduce individual freedoms through legal abuses and judicial inconsistencies in interpretation, and work against our nations traditional innocent until proven guilty foundation.

The definition of a “victim” under Marsy’s Law still seems too broad and is a one size fits all. A sexual assault victim would have the same legal standing as someone who got passed a $5.00 bad check, as they are both defined in this law as victims. Boise State University recently released a 147 page study on Idaho Crime Victims in Idaho and the assessment of needs and services they experienced. None of the 28 recommendations in this study would be addressed with this constitutional amendment

Most would think that promoting such a law would be done in a manner that appeals to core reasons of the bills need, like compassion and help for true victims of bad crimes. But to date here in Idaho, this lobby group has no qualms about viciously turning on legislators who don’t gobble up their rhetoric. Nichol’s group have digressed to using questionable methods and insinuations against legislators on the committee hearing the bill. Nicholas’s group also left their “compassion” at home when they bullied legislators with photos of beat up victims and then took out of context photos of legislators appearing to be smiling at the photo. It even got to the point where I was personally approached by another legislator from committee and told if I would vote yes for this bill, I would be helped to get another bill passed through the Senate, because one of the Marsy’s Law lobbyists supposedly had influence over some Senate members. While this may not be illegal, at minimum is unprofessional and bad behavior.

I also visited directly with a California lobbyist for the bill. During his presentation he said, “Once we get the amendment passed, we can come into the state to help represent the victims”. When I asked who “we” was, he replied, The Nicholas Foundation. So now we have two groups intertwined with the hopes of passing legislation which will allow them a readymade market to start cashing in on. This sounds like the purest form of crony capitalism and using government to pick winners and losers. And to use victims of crime is a sad marketing scheme and business model.

If the bill is so great, why did the largest local Idaho victims’ rights advocacy group testify it?

If the bill is solid legally why has South Dakota, who passed the language two years ago, is now trying to repeal it? Montana passed it in 2016 and in 2017, it has been declared unconstitutional.

My problem with the bill are many: unfunded mandates with the county prosecutors, hiring of more governmental staff to handle unforeseen issues and defendants would spend more time in jail and be presumed guilty before proven guilty. Florida’s public defender association declared their Marsy’s Law conflicts with the U.S. constitution and federal rights of defendants.

Idahoans do have better solutions and it is called the Idaho Victim Rights Act. This bill would enhance victim’s rights in the code, not the constitution and provide real solutions to help victims.

Rep. Heather Scott represents Bonner and Boundary counties in the Idaho Legislature in District 1A. She can be reached at hscott@house.idaho.gov.

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