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Senate unanimously passes bill to compensate the wrongfully convicted

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BOISE — A bill to compensate the wrongfully convicted in Idaho unanimously passed the Senate on Wednesday.

Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, introduced the legislation this year. In 2020, the House and Senate passed a similar bill, but Gov. Brad Little vetoed it. After working with the governor’s office to craft a bill acceptable to him, Ricks brought it to the Legislature again.

“People who have been wrongly convicted have been robbed of years of their lives, and once they have been fully exonerated, they are left to pick up the pieces of their lives on their own,” Ricks said in a news release. “It’s an accepted principle of fairness in our society to compensate citizens who, through no fault of their own, have suffered losses.”

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

The bill is also supported by Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, and Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls. Under the bill, those wrongfully convicted of a crime are eligible for $62,000 for every year spent behind bars and $75,000 per year for those on death row. It would be paid in a lump sum.

Changes to this year’s bill include removing the portion that included medical insurance and tuition waivers for college credits. Ricks said Little said those clauses were unfunded mandates.

Idaho Falls resident Chris Tapp testified to the Senate Judiciary and Rules committee last week in hopes the bill will make it again on Little’s desk. Tapp spent years behind bars after a jury wrongfully convicted him of the 1996 rape and murder of Angie Dodge. He was exonerated in 2019 after DNA cleared his name and pointed to another man.

RELATED | Bill to compensate the wrongfully convicted in Idaho sent to Senate floor

“Being in prison is horrible as you can imagine,” Tapp said. “Being there when you are innocent is that much worse. I missed out of 20 years of my life … I was released from prison with nothing but my freedom. I had no financial resources to rebuild my life or to meet my daily needs.”

The bill will now go over to the House for consideration.

“To the innocent people who have lost decades of their lives, this bill shows that the people of Idaho care about them and welcome them back to freedom,” Greg Hampikian, co-director of the Idaho Innocence Project, said in a news release.

Idaho is one of 15 states that does not have a law to compensate the wrongfully convicted. Under the bill’s conditions, lawmakers believe there six people qualify for the money, with the potential of four others pending the outcomes of their cases.

RELATED | Good Question: How many innocent people go to prison?

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