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State House passes two bills on victims' rights

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Victims would have more rights under bills passed by the state House Thursday.

One bill would require defendants be physically present in the courtroom when a victim or victim’s family gives an impact statement at sentencing. The other is aimed at making sure students don’t have to go to school with someone who sexually assaulted them.

Bill sponsor Holly Hughes says she was inspired by an event that took place in Muskegon County last December, when Jeffrey Willis blew a kiss to the courtroom as he exited. He left because he refused to listen to the victim impact statements of the family members of the woman he had murdered.

Hughes says, “We want to just make sure that victims’ rights are well above murderers’ rights and so we’re going to move this as fast as we possibly can.”

The other piece of legislation passed by the House Thursday would prevent someone who is convicted or has a juvenile adjudication for criminal sexual conduct against another student from being in the same school building as the victim.

Lawmakers say there’s currently a gap in the law – school officials can’t kick a student out of school unless the sexual assault happens on school grounds.

Republican Representative Lana Theis is a bill sponsor.

She says, “Requiring the victim to publicly beg for protection and carry this burden is simply unacceptable. It’s unconscionable that we have created a justice system where the victim is the one who is forced to change schools in order to find protection and safety.”

Critics of the legislation say students should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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