Voters in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania gave wide support Tuesday to a state constitutional amendment that would grant explicit rights to crime victims.

Certification of the so-called Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment vote was temporarily blocked by the state Supreme Court shortly before Election Day. Nevertheless, about three-quarters of voters both citywide and statewide had backed the measure as of Wednesday, with 96% of precincts reporting.

Philadelphia voters also approved two local ballot questions Tuesday, including one authorizing the city to borrow $185 million for infrastructure projects. With about half of voting precincts reporting, 75% of voters had approved borrowing the money for streets, parks, government buildings, transportation, and more. More than a quarter of the borrowing is intended for purposes related to public safety and justice.

The borrowing will add to the city’s $5 billion bond debt. The newly issued debt would be paid off over 20 years.

Philadelphia voters are familiar with bond questions: Almost the same language has been included on the ballot for more than two decades, and the questions typically pass with ease. Last November, voters approved a $181 million ask.

“If the city were not able to borrow on a fairly regular basis to invest in this infrastructure, that would be problematic,” said Pat Christmas, policy director at the local government watchdog group Committee of Seventy.

Philadelphians also voted by similar margins to amend the Home Rule Charter to raise the threshold amount to begin a formal bidding process on city contracts, from $34,000 to $75,000, and to $100,000 for local businesses. The intent is to make it easier for local businesses to compete for city work, said City Councilman Derek Green, who introduced the initiative.

Pennsylvania voters faced the controversial question on Marsy’s Law, a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee certain rights to crime victims and their families. But there was a catch: While the question appeared on the ballot, the votes won’t be counted or certified until and unless state courts rule the measure constitutionally sound.

Jennifer Storm, who heads the state's Office of Victim Advocate, testified before Philadelphia City Council on Thursday, April 11, 2019, in favor of a Council resolution urging support for Marsy's Law.
JULIE SHAW / Staff
Jennifer Storm, who heads the state's Office of Victim Advocate, testified before Philadelphia City Council on Thursday, April 11, 2019, in favor of a Council resolution urging support for Marsy's Law.

Earlier this week, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that temporarily blocked the counting or certifying of Marsy’s Law question votes, because the changes would have “immediate, profound, and in some instances, irreversible consequences on the constitutional rights of the accused.” The ruling was in favor of the League of Women Voters and the ACLU, groups that sued over Marsy’s Law, contending it violates the due process rights of the accused.

While the court ruling blocked state officials from counting or certifying the election results, it didn’t prohibit counties from doing so, which is why unofficial results were available Tuesday.

Marsy’s Law backers declared victory Tuesday night.

“This is a truly historic day in our commonwealth,” said Jennifer Storm, the state’s Victim Advocate, in a statement. “It is the day that we finally stop failing crime victims.”

If state courts rule Marsy’s Law constitutional, Pennsylvania would become the 13th state to pass and implement some form of the law, which is named after Marsalee Nicholas, who was murdered in California in 1983. Her brother, billionaire Henry Nicholas, has bankrolled Marsy’s Law efforts across the country. His organization, Marsy’s Law for All, has contributed nearly $100 million to the effort.