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Victims' rights advocates call on Iowa legislature to pass Marsy's Law

The bill would add rights for crime victims as an amendment to the Iowa constitution.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Supporters of Marsy's Law gathered at the state Capitol Monday, renewing the call for lawmakers to pass the bill and expand crime victims' rights into the state constitution.

What is Marsy's Law?

The bill is named after Marsalee Nicholas, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Just a week after the murder, Marsy's mom was on her way home from the funeral and stopped at a grocery store. She didn't know her daughter's murderer had been released from jail until he confronted her at the store that day, according to Marsy's Law for All.

If passed, the law would give victims the legal right to be notified of all proceedings involving the criminal offense, like court and parole hearings, as well as guaranteed access to restitution. Marsy's Law for Iowa argues the changes are long overdue.

"These are people who entered Iowa's criminal justice system, by no choice of their own, and yet are all too often maligned and re-victimized by a system that doesn't respect their rights," said Eric Baker, director of Marsy's Law for Iowa.

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Under Marsy's Law, who exactly is considered a victim?

A victim is anyone who has suffered physical, emotional or financial harm as a result of a crime, other than a simple misdemeanor. It also includes immediate family members of a person who was killed, such as Liz Ford of Sioux City. In 2015, Ford's husband was killed in a vehicular homicide. Despite signing up to receive information about the offender's hearings, she said nothing ever showed up.

"Since that day, I have exhaustingly had to fight every step of the way in the process," Ford said at Monday's press conference. "The reason? Our system is broken, pure and simple. There's no other answer, and it needs to be fixed." 

When could Iowans start seeing these changes?

A constitutional amendment has to be approved by two sessions of the Iowa Legislature before going to the public for a vote.

Marsy's Law for Iowa is currently in the House as House Study Bill 525. The organization said 36 states have constitutional amendments regarding crime victim rights.

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