by Madeline Janice –
State Senator Whitney Westerfield says he will continue to fight for a proposed constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law despite failing to pass a bill two years in a row.
Westerfield filed the bill, known as Marsy’s Law, both in 2016 and in 2017. It was one of a handful of constitutional amendments filed during this year’s session, with none of them making it to the Governor’s desk. Despite back-to-back failures, Westerfield has hope for the 60-day session next year.
“A number of them were filed, including mine, Marsy’s Law, that’ll I’ll file again in 2018,” Westerfield said. “And I’ve been given much more confident word that it’s going to be able to proceed in 2018, and I’m thankful because it’s important.”
Marsy’s Law would grant a “Victim’s Bill of Rights,” giving victims of violent crimes constitutional rights to receive notification of proceedings and developments in the criminal case. Additionally, it would give victims the right to be present at court proceedings.
Victims are afforded rights under state statute, but Westerfield says that this legislation is needed so that victims are afforded equal rights to those of the accused.
“When a statute runs head to head with the constitutional rights of the criminals that are in our justice system, that are in court, that are accused of doing wrong doing, it loses,” Westerfield said. “A statute is subordinate to the constitutional law, and when those constitutional protections win out then our victims aren’t treated as equally as the accused.”
Westerfield emphasized that the rights of the accused are critical to the system, and can’t be reduced.
Some members of the General Assembly who aren’t completely on board with Marsy’s Law are lawyers and work in the legal profession. Westerfield believes that this reluctance is simply good caution.
“I think most of the time reluctance eventually becomes support,” Westerfield said. “It’s their turf, it’s their area where they work and they practice. They want to make sure things are fully vetted and scrutinized, particularly when you are talking about a constitutional amendment.”
Another constitutional amendment that has been tossed around for the past few years is changing when Kentucky holds gubernatorial elections. Moving the elections of the governor and constitutional officers to the same year as presidential elections has been floated as a cost-saving measure by several in the GOP. Westerfield says that he has supported the legislation in the past, and that it is a financial issue.
“I’d be okay with it, it’s a cost-saving measure,” Westerfield said. “People would make the argument that there’s a political motive there, there’s not. The election still has to happen.”
Westerfield also said that he would be open to hearing other changes to election laws, including early voting.
“It’s sort of a trade-off there, whether or not you’re actually increasing turnout is not very clear,” Westerfield said. “I haven’t looked any further than Tennessee, which does have early voting. So maybe other states have had better success. I’m open to hearing that.”