COLUMBUS -- A group that wants to amend the state constitution to solidify the rights of crime victims formally launched its petition campaign Feb. 15, with hopes of gathering enough signatures to qualify for the general election ballot.
Backers of Marsy's Law for Ohio plan to use paid circulators as part of their efforts to collect the required 305,000-plus valid signatures from registered voters in the state. They'd have to submit those names by early July to have the issue placed before voters in November.
Among other provisions, the proposed amendment would require that victims be notified of legal proceedings involving the perpetrators of their crimes, with language securing victims' right to be present and to participate in those proceedings. Victims would have to be notified in the event of their perpetrators' escape or other release from prison.
The amendment also would position victims to legally assert their rights and seek restitution.
"Marsy's Law for Ohio will elevate crime victims to equal footing with defendants to ensure that crime victims are treated with fairness, dignity and respect and receive equal protections and equal access to justice," said Cathy Harper Lee, executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center.
Comparable ballot efforts have been approved in a handful of other states, including North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.
Victim rights language was OK'd by Ohio voters more than two decades ago, but Marsy's Law proponents say those provisions don't go far enough to protect victims.
"We now know that a more specific victims bill of rights is needed, and it must be in the constitution so we can't suddenly lose our rights through legislation," said David Voth, executive director of Crime Victim Services. He added, "Crime victims need this constitutional amendment, and they need it now."
The bill is named in memory of Marsy Nicholas, who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. According to backers of the Ohio amendment, Nicholas' family members ran into the accused murderer in a grocery store a week after the murder, unaware that he had been released on bail.
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.