Gov. Rick Scott pledged his support for bringing Marsy's Law to Florida, a measure that has had versions passed in six other states that add constitutional protections for crime victims' rights, on Tuesday in St. Petersburg before the Florida Constitution Revision Commission held its final public hearing on Tuesday.
The bill is named after Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas, a University of California, Santa Barbara student whose family was confronted by her murderer at a grocery store a week after she was killed in 1983, because they were never informed of his release on bail. The bill would include the right for victims or their survivors to be present at any court proceeding, the right to speak at a perpetrator's plea hearing, and the right to know if the person will be released from prison.
"These are common rights and protections that many people think already exist in Florida for victims and their families, and unfortunately that is not the case." Tim Cerio, a sponsor of the measure and member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) which will vote on the the amendment. If it is approved by the CRC, the measure will be placed on ballots in November.
"It's very important that Marsy's Law becomes the law of our land, the law of our state," Scott said. "…Right now we can come together and send a very strong message that we stand with victims."
Florida is one of 15 states that does not enumerate victims' rights in its constitution, and since California in 2008 enacted Marsy's Law, the California Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008, several states have followed suit.
Tech billionaire Henry T. Nicholas, who is Marsy's brother and was one of the family members who was confronted by her killer, an ex-boyfriend, has been leading the effort to expand the law. Along with California, so far Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois have adopted the law.
In other states, however, critics have called it a potentially costly unfunded mandate or warned that poorly written initiatives could lead to unintended consequences.
Scott, who spoke of removing cases from a state prosecutor who "refused to seek justice for fallen law enforcement officers" and issued an executive order on sexual harassment reporting, said he will always stand with victims.
"We've got to think about our victims and make sure their voices are heard," he said. "Everybody should have rights to protect themselves. The accused have rights."
Senator Lauren Book (D-Broward), spoke in support of the bill, sharing the account of having to go into harrowing details of abuse during a deposition at 16 years old.
"The scales of justice are not balanced," she said. "Why should a rapist have more rights than the person he or she raped? Why should a murderer have more rights than the family of who he or she killed?"
Michael Liles, executive director of the Justice Coalition in Jacksonville, said the bill was personal for him as well.
On March 23, last year he found his wife beaten to death after a home invasion. Liles has attended 11 hearings since her death, none of which he has been notified of, including one on what would have been their 42nd anniversary.
"When you point out your rights have been trampled, they're willing to wear an 'oops, I goofed' sticker, 'sorry,' but sorry doesn't help," he said. "I've heard someone say Marsy's law is a solution looking for a problem. It is easy to find the problems. I'm your problem. I hurt in ways no one will understand. …I still hope every morning she's going to wake me up with a kiss and tell me boy did you have a fitful night and every morning I realize that's not happening."
Cerio said no existing protection for victims exists in law that has any real teeth.
"A reality is that often time the victims fall through the cracks," he said. "Victims weren't provided with notification about their cases or restitution was provided and they never saw a penny."
Scott also addressed questions from reporters about the legislative session which ended Sunday. He said he was still reviewing bills and would continue to defend the gun safety bill he signed in the face of the National Rifle Association lawsuit.
""I'm going to always focus on school safety," he said. "It's horrible what happened to those 17 families. We worked hard to get a bill passed this session. …There's three branches of government. I'm going to fight to protect that bill."
Scott, who would have to resign early if he was elected to the U.S. Senate because of a constitutional requirement that Congress convene on Jan. 3 — a week before his term ends– had said to the Associated Press he'd make a decision about the Senate race in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday, he indicated he planned to serve out his term until Jan. 8.
"As you know, most politicians are focused on their next job, I'm still focused on getting this job done," he said. "I think I have about 301 days left in this job, and you know, I'll make a decision about the Senate race in the future."