PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota Senate approved a measure Wednesday that would ask June primary voters to make changes to the “Marsy’s Law” constitutional bill of rights for crime victims previously passed at the ballot.
House lawmakers would have to agree with the unusual move to place the measure on the June ballot rather than wait for the November election. Lawmakers are advancing changes to the constitutional amendment under an agreement with a group that has persuaded voters in several states to approve versions of Marsy’s Law.
The new proposal would ask voters to make changes to the amendment including requiring victims to opt into many rights, explicitly allowing authorities to share information with the public to help solve crimes and limiting the definition of a victim.
Republican Sen. Jim Bolin, a supporter of the changes, said Marsy’s Law has caused unintended consequences for local governments and problems for authorities. He said the Marsy’s Law campaign would like the vote “expedited” and that putting the measure on the June ballot could save counties money.
“I know this is unusual, but I believe the seriousness of this question and the willingness of the parties to work together should warrant our approval of this amendment to the bill,” Bolin said in asking lawmakers to move up the vote from the general election to the primary.
Democrats, who currently don’t have primary races for governor or U.S. House, oppose a June vote. Democratic Sen. Troy Heinert said turnout will be “exceptionally lower” for parties without primaries.
“Short of taking off of work, driving to town, coming to vote on this specific … amendment, what is the incentive to get out and vote?” he asked.
But the chamber voted 27-8 to advance the measure. Bolin said the push would also require another bill.
South Dakota would be the first state to alter Marsy’s Law out of the six that have enacted it. It guarantees crime victims and their family members the right to privacy, protection from harassment or abuse and timely notice of trial, sentencing and post-judgment proceedings.
It’s named after California college student Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend. The measure passed with about 60 percent support in 2016, but critics say it’s causing problems for law enforcement and prosecutors and spiking costs for counties.