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Lawmakers taking another swing to pass bill that will compensate the wrongfully convicted


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Rep. Doug Ricks and Christopher Tapp in 2020. | Courtesy Idaho Innocence Project

IDAHO FALLS — Idaho lawmakers are taking another crack to pass a bill that will compensate people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

Last year, Gov. Brad Little vetoed a bill passed by the House and Senate that would have given tens of thousands of dollars to those wrongfully convicted. Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, introduced the new bill’s printing this week to the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee.

While serving in the house last year, Ricks introduced the 2020 version of the legislation, which had nearly unanimous bipartisan support. The COVID-19 pandemic cut the legislative session short, leaving legislators unable to reach a solution after the veto.

“It was a bit of a shock to me,” Ricks told the committee. “We decided based on what happened we need to work with the Governor’s office to figure out what differences they had with it … We have come to an agreement. I believe they’re in full support of this.”

Ricks explained to that among the changes of the 2021 bill are removing a clause that included medical insurance and tuition waivers for college credits.

“The governor’s office – that was one of the things that they didn’t like because they claim those are unfunded mandates,” Ricks said.

After working with Little’s office over the summer, the 2021 bill adjusts the compensation from $60,000 to $62,000 per year that someone is incarcerated after being wrongfully convicted. For those on death row, the payment is $75,000 per year of incarceration. It would be paid out in a lump sum.

“That compensation just simplifies the implementation of not having to worry about some of those other benefits and how we’re going to work those,” Ricks said.

Ricks said Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, will be a co-supporter of the bill. Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, is expected to carry the bill if the Senate passes it and sends it to the house floor.

If the bill passes the way it’s written, it would be implemented immediately rather than on July 1.

According to the Innocence Project, 15 states, including Idaho, do not have any statues to compensate the wrongfully convicted. Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, New York Attorneys, founded the organization to help exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

Among the Innocence Project’s clients is Chris Tapp of Idaho Falls. In 1998, a jury convicted Tapp for the rape and murder of Angie Dodge. DNA evidence cleared his name and a judge officially exonerated Tapp in 2019. Tapp is expected to meet with Little Friday morning, according to Ricks.

“I appreciate the Governor taking time to meet with Chris and I expect it to be a positive visit,” Ricks said.

Marissa Morrison, a spokeswoman for Little, said the Governor does not comment on pending legislation.

Tapp is expected to testify on Wednesday when the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee holds a full hearing on the bill.