Thursday, June 4, 2009

First in the Nation

Yesterday, the New Hampshire Senate passed a bill that will create a death penalty study commission; we'll post further news about that as we get it. MVFHR Executive Director and New Hampshire State Representative Renny Cushing has also been able to introduce several innovative bills that expand the rights of crime victims in the state, and we are thrilled that these too passed in the Senate yesterday (having already passed in the House).

One of these is the Crime Victims Equality Act, which "provides that crime victims shall be guaranteed all federal and state constitutional rights on an equal basis. The bill also provides that crime victims shall be treated equally under the law regardless of the victim’s position on the death penalty." The act amends the existing law regarding the rights of crime victims by inserting the following text:

The right to all federal and state constitutional rights guaranteed to all victims of crime on an equal basis, and notwithstanding the provisions of any laws on capital punishment, the right not to be discriminated against or have their rights as a victim denied, diminished, expanded, or enhanced on the basis of the victim’s support for, opposition to, or neutrality on the death penalty.

Back in 2002, when Renny and I worked together to produce the report DIGNITY DENIED, which detailed the unequal treatment that victims who oppose the death penalty sometimes receive from judges, attorneys, and victims' rights advocates, Renny drafted model legislation that he hoped states would use to ban this kind of discrimination. He said this morning, "When we published that model legislation, it never crossed my mind that I would be the lawmaker sponsoring the first bill to become law in this country banning discrimination against family members of murder victims who oppose the death penalty."

Hats off to Renny for having the leadership and vision not only to conceive of an idea but to see it through to becoming a reality. May other states follow New Hampshire's example and pass their own Crime Victims Equality Acts.

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