Marsy’s Law passes in Pa., now heads to voter referendum

Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.

Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. on the Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

In a unanimous vote, the state Senate has passed Marsy’s Law — a constitutional amendment that would enshrine rights for crime victims in the state constitution.

It will now go to voters as a ballot measure. But it faces strong opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union.

In order to be added to the state constitution, amendments have to be passed by the House and Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions. In all the votes, Marsy’s Law has passed easily.

The bill doesn’t change much about the existing laws protecting crime victims. Jennifer Storm, the state’s victim advocate, said it would mainly give them standing to sue if those rights — like being notified of a perpetrator’s release from prison — are violated.

“Victims have wonderful rights,” she said. “But when their rights are violated, they have no recourse. So we have rights without remedies.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The state chapter of the ACLU opposes Marsy’s law. In a statement, it called the language “vague” and “formulaic,” and said its experts aren’t satisfied that the changes won’t infringe on rights of the accused.

Jennifer Riley, who directs the lobbying group Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, said the goal now is to convince voters to approve the amendment.

“We’re going to run this like any statewide political campaign,” she said.

Marsy’s Law will be on ballot across the state in November.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal