Victims' constitutional amendment wins candidates' backing

October 31, 1994|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

Judging by the bipartisan turnout at a town meeting last week, many of Howard County's political candidates are backing the proposed state constitutional amendment for crime victims' rights.

Although overall attendance was sparse, the large number of candidates demonstrated why the amendment -- Question No. 1 on the ballot in next week's election -- has attracted so little attention: almost no one is speaking out against it.

"There is no formal opposition," acknowledged Roberta Roper, co-chair of the state coalition in favor of the amendment. "We are asking those of you here tonight to come away with a better understanding of it and to tell your neighbors and others about it."

The amendment, if passed, would establish several basic rights for crime victims, including requiring them to be notified of any court proceedings, to be treated with respect and sensitivity through the process and to be allowed to speak at court hearings.

Although the state legislature has already passed statutes to protect victims' rights, the laws have little meaning because there is no enforcement mechanism, Ms. Roper said.

"Victims' rights should not be at the whim of the legislature or appointed officials. They should be protected by the constitution," she said.

The state legislature overwhelmingly approved placing the amendment on the ballot last winter, and up to 90 percent of voters in other states have voted for similar amendments, Ms. Roper said.

Eleven of the approximately 30 people attending Thursday night's meeting in the County Council chambers were candidates for local office. They included candidates for County Council, House of Delegates, state's attorney, clerk of the court, school board and sheriff.

Also on hand were several representatives of the state's attorney's office and other appointed officials.

Noting the strong support for the amendment, retiring State's Attorney William Himes decided to prohibit individual candidates from speaking to prevent the one-hour meeting from lasting three hours or more.

Only Eleanor M. Carey, who lost in the Democratic primary for attorney general last month, and Paul H. Rappaport, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, were permitted to speak briefly in favor of the amendment.

Ms. Carey spoke on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Parris N. Glendening and Mr. Rappaport, on behalf of the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

The meeting also featured a videotape in support of the amendment prepared with the help of John Walsh, host of the syndicated crime-fighting television show "America's Most Wanted."

The event was sponsored by the county state's attorney's office and the state coalition fighting for passage of the amendment.

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