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Ras Smith

CEDAR FALLS – A push to empower victims and their families may face a fight in the Legislature.

Bills in the House and Senate that mirror California’s Marsy’s Law would broaden the rights of crime victims — guaranteeing notice of custody status changes for perpetrators, allowing input at court proceedings and allowing them to refuse depositions leading up to trial, among other items.

But the bills are proposed as amendments to Iowa’s Constitution, and some victim advocacy workers say they would draw resources from existing programs.

“When you look at something like Marsy’s Law and the amount of money that it’s going cost to enact it, really it’s diverting from a pot that’s already depleted based on the basic needs. When you couple that with the really atrocious budget proposal that looks like it could lead to the closing of 30-plus courthouses … that’s something that we just can’t stand,” Gwen Bramlet-Hecker, development director for Riverview Center, told law makers during a legislative forum at the Central Rivers Area Education Agency on Saturday.

Riverview Center, based in Waterloo, provides services for victims of sexual violence in 14 counties. Bramlet-Hecker said a recent state Attorney General’s Office assessment of survivors’ needs showed the top issues were transportation to courthouses, medical services and wages lost to attend court to get protection orders.

Lawmakers attending Saturday’s forum, which concentrated on human services issues, included Sen. Jeff Danielson, Sen. Bill Dotzler, Rep. Bob Kressig, Rep. Timi Brown-Powers and Rep. Ras Smith.

Dotzler said he won’t support the bill unless there are major changes.

“It’s something that on first blush you’d think you needed to support, but when you really look at how it’s changing our Constitution and taking flexibility out of how you deal with victim services, taking care of people, it’s really a bad thing,” Dotzler said.

Smith said he supported moving the Marsy’s Law provision out of committee but won’t support it on the floor.

“In order for the general public to really understand why people they otherwise see as victim advocates don’t see this as the best avenue to really help victims is to have a floor debate,” Smith said. “From a legislative perspective, we understand that when you allocate funds, you can do so in a way that has a greater impact that this constitutional amendment would do.”

Marsy’s Law is named after Marsalee Nicholas, who was killed by an ex-boyfriend in 1983 in California. Shortly after the slaying, Nicholas’ brother and mother encountered the killer in a grocery store. They hadn’t been notified he had been released on bail. Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota and Ohio have similar statutes, according to the website.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and other officials in February launched a campaign to put the amendment on the state ballot.

Lawmakers Saturday also heard from Barb Prather, executive director of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, who continued to push for exemption from the state sales tax.

The food bank, which serves 16 counties and provides food to about 5,800 people each week, pays $30,000 to $40,000 in state sales tax every year for the organization’s purchases, Prather said. She said that money could be used to provide 160,000 meals.

Prather also talked about the possibility tax credits could disappear for producers and growers who donate to food banks. Prather said there is a provision to remove the food donation tax credit in a Senate tax bill that recently passed.

“While it hasn’t been used a whole lot, it is still about an $80,000 effect on the state budget, which really isn’t a whole lot. And the fact of the matter is it has helped us provide over 60,000 meals to people in need just this past year,” Prather said.

The next legislative forum at Central Rivers is scheduled for March 23.


Police and Courts Reporter

Cops and courts reporter for the Courier

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