HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee voting on a handful of bills aimed at protecting victims of crimes from abuse and violence. Four of the five bills easily made it out of committee. However, one bill that would add victim's rights to the Pennsylvania Constitution was debated for about a half hour before ultimately being passed out of committee.
Pennsylvania is currently one of nine states that does not provide constitutional protections to the rights of crime victims. Mary's law, also known as HB276.
"We very much give rights to those that are accused, as we should," said Representative Sheryl Delozier. "But what we need to recognize is, the victim is victimized by the crime and then re-victimized by the system when their voice is not heard."
Mary's Law already passed the General Assembly last session but needs to pass once more. Then, it will be put on the ballot this November for voters to decide if the state's constitution should be changed for victim's rights.
Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee voted the bill to the floor, but not before some questions were raised.
"I believe this is well intentioned," said Rep. Paul Schemel. 'But I believe really dangerous to our notions of justice, to our accused having a presumption of innocence. And again many of these protections are already existing in statue."
However, Pennsylvania's Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm says although there are statutes giving victims rights, they are not enforceable like constitutional rights. For example, Storm says she's seen cases where a victim was denied the right to give an impact statement.
"By saying to them, 'You have a constitutional right,’ it tells them they're more than a piece of evidence. It tells them that we value their experience," said Storm. "It's not giving them more rights over the accused or removing the rights from the accused but it's saying these rights that we've given you by law, they should be enforceable. If they are violated, you should have a remedy and if we put them in the constitution we give them that remedy."
The bill will now go to the House for a full vote likely to take place on March 12th.