BOISE, Idaho (KIFI) - A Rexburg Senator is among Idaho lawmakers who are leading the way for a bill that would compensate people who have been wrongfully incarcerated in Idaho's justice system.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 1027, the "Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act." If made into law, people who are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a felony crime will be compensated $62,000 for each year of incarceration.
Senator Doug Ricks from Rexburg is sponsoring the bill. Ricks was heavily inspired to sponsor this bill after watching Christopher Tapp being exonerated for the murder of Angie Dodge.
“I look back at my life, and I think, well that’s when I had my family, my education, and all my children were born. Those things were taken away from someone like Chris,” Ricks said.
Tapp spoke in support of the bill at Wednesday's committee hearing.
“Being in prison is as horrible as you can imagine. And being there when you’re innocent, is that much worse," Tapp said.
In 2020, the bill passed almost unanimously in both the House and Senate, but was surprisingly vetoed by Governor Brad Little.
The Governor’s office told Ricks they supported the bill, but had issues with the part of the bill that would compensate people with health insurance and tuition for 120 college credits.
“They felt like that was difficult to add into the bill as an unfunded mandate,” Ricks said.
After working with the Governor’s aids, the new version of the bill scraps the health insurance and tuition credits and adds an additional $2,000 per year of wrongful incarceration, making for a total of $62,000 per year.
“We had reached out to the Governor’s office and worked with their people to make sure we had some common ground and there wouldn’t be any surprises this time around,” Ricks said.
Idaho is one of a handful of states that does not offer any support, resources or compensation to people who were wrongfully convicted and incarcerated.
“I was released from prison with nothing but my freedom. I had no financial resources, no way to rebuild my life,” Tapp said.
“If we as a society put somebody away when they were truly innocent, we need to pony up and try to provide some compensation to try to fix that. We can’t go back and give them the years they lost, but we can it a little bit better,” Ricks said.
The Committee will send the Bill to the Senate floor, and will likely vote on it early next week. If it passes in the Senate, it goes to the House.
Ricks worked with the Idaho Innocence Project, the National Innocence Project and the Idaho Attorney General’s office, among other agencies to draft this bill.