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Murphysboro American - Murphysboro, IL
  • State Capitol Q&A: A look at the crime victims amendment

  • This week's State Capitol Q&A takes a closer look at the proposed crime victims amendment and the situation surrounding it.


     

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  • The battle to get constitutional amendments on the ballot for the November election continues.
    Crime victim advocates hope to get House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 19 on the ballot, which would strengthen the crime victim's rights guaranteed by the Illinois Constitution.
    But a dispute over which amendments should reach the ballot first between Democrats and Republicans could put this idea in limbo this spring.
    This week's State Capitol Q&A takes a closer look at the proposed crime victims amendment and the situation surrounding it:
    Q: What will the amendment do?
    A: Introduced last year by Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, HJRCA 19 would make crime victims rights more enforceable.
    Victims would get the right to go to court and ask that rights they were denied be enforced. It would also give crime victims the right to be notified in a timely manner for post-judgment proceedings and the right to make a statement at sentencing and other hearings related to early release or parole.
    Other provisions include the right for victims and their family's safety to be considered when denying or setting the amount of bond and in deciding parole.
    Lang said the amendment wouldn't change whether a person was found guilty or innocent.
    Crime victims rights' have been on the books in Illinois for nearly three decades.
    According to the attorney general's office, Illinois first passed a crime victims' rights law in 1984. In 1992, voters agreed to add crime victims' rights to the Illinois Constitution. 
    Q: Why is this constitutional amendment needed?
    A: Lyn Schollett, general counsel for the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the victims' rights were not enforceable under the current provision in the Illinois Constitution.
    "They're not being enforced because right now there is language in the Illinois Constitution that prevents victims from actually enforcing those rights," Schollett said. "The constitution says that the victim cannot seek any appellate relief if her or his rights are denied."
    Lang said the amendment would provide the victims rights they should always have.
    "It provides the ability for someone who has not been given their rights post-sentence to make a motion in a courtroom to be heard," he said.
    The attorney general's office said complaints about victims being denied the chance to exercise their rights were clear in a 2008 series of AG roundtables. 
    Q: Where is this issue headed next?
    A: Lang said he hopes to push the idea for a House vote as early as this week. From there, it would need to clear the Senate by early May to be on the fall ballot.
    But there's a catch. The measure needs some Republican support to clear the Democratic legislature. The GOP has balked already at another seemingly straightforward proposed amendment.
    Page 2 of 2 - An amendment proposed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, to add more experience requirements for judges fell short of the votes needed recently. Republicans voted no, arguing the effort could keep more important issues from the ballot. Lawmakers can only propose amending three constitutional articles in one election, and recall of future governors already has one spot.
    Lang calls GOP complaints of a Democratic ballot-filling conspiracy "absurd."
    "As you know, I'm on the Democratic leadership team. We meet virtually every day during session, and I can tell you that there's never been a word uttered regarding a desire to fill up the ballot," Lang said.
    Sara Wojcicki, spokeswoman for House Republicans, says the GOP wants to meet with Democratic leaders to prioritize amendments and decide which ones move forward.
    "Rep. Cross still wants to have that meeting and we don't think it is unreasonable," Wojcicki said.
    Proponents think the crime victims amendment will get through on its merits.
    "The fact that it has some competition this year makes the landscaping more interesting, but I don't think it detracts from the importance from this amendment," Schollett said. "We'll just have to see where the chips fall in the end."
    Matt Hopf can be reached at 217-782-3095 or Matt.hopf@sj-r.com.
     
     
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