By Jon King, Michigan Advance
Bipartisan legislation aimed at supporting crime victims was signed Monday in Detroit by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The package of four bills, two sponsored by Democrats and two sponsored by Republicans, provide increased access to support services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, add privacy protections and allow oral impact statements to be given virtually.
“As a former prosecutor, I am committed to supporting survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Whitmer. “These commonsense bills will protect people’s privacy and safety while ensuring swift prosecutions for those who commit these crimes.”
House Bill 4420, sponsored by state Rep. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo), amends the Code of Criminal Procedure to allow a police officer or prosecuting attorney to share victims’ contact information with domestic and sexual violence service providers for the purpose of offering supportive services to victims.
“I’m proud of the work my colleagues and I have done on the bipartisan Crime Victim’s Rights Bill Package,” said Rogers. “Violence unfortunately has a way of infiltrating our communities — we’ve seen it in our schools, in homes, at our workplaces and in our neighborhoods. Ensuring victims are connected to survivor-centered programs such as trauma recovery is vital for survivors to feel supported— and it’s essential that their privacy be protected as they seek help.”
House Bill 4421, sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Young (D-Detroit), amends the Crime Victim’s Rights Act so that videos, photos, and sketches of crime victims that are used in court proceedings streamed on the internet could be blurred.
“Passing these bills to provide greater protection for crime survivors and witnesses has been a major priority for me,” said Young. “It is my hope this will give peace of mind to those giving testimony to know their images won’t be used for digital stalking or other abuses.”
House Bill 4422, sponsored by state Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), amends the William Van Regenmorter Crime Victim’s Rights Act to expand the definition of serious misdemeanor to include threatening a state health official with physical harm, embezzlement from a vulnerable adult and causing serious injury or death while driving.
“This bipartisan legislation will give crime victims a louder voice in the judicial process,” said Filler. “Crime victims, who have been terrorized and victimized, deserve resources & support & protection during the sentencing and trial phase. These are the kinds of bills that may save lives.”
And finally, House Bill 4423, sponsored by state Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores), allows a victim to provide an oral impact statement virtually at a disposition or sentencing.
Previously, crime victims who wished to personally deliver such statements had to physically be in the courtroom During testimony on the bill in May, it was noted by stakeholders in sexual and domestic violence advocacy and research that having to speak in the same room as the perpetrator of violence was not only a deterrent to providing an impact statement, but also in seeking justice through the court system at all.
“We must do all we can to ensure crime victim’s voices are heard and that they are able to share these statements where they are safe and away from their abuser,” said VanWoerkom. “I’m proud to follow in the steps of my predecessor from Ottawa County, William Van Regenmorter, and the incredible work he’s done for crime victim’s rights. It’s an honor to build on his lasting legacy.”
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