- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A citizens’ initiative seeking to expand the rights of Montana crime victims and their families qualified Friday for the November ballot.

The constitutional amendment calls for requiring authorities to inform victims or their families of key developments in a case and to provide the opportunity to be heard in proceedings.

Secretary of state officials said that advocates of the measure known as Marsy’s Law have collected more than the required 48,349 signatures from 40 legislative districts.

If ratified by voters, it would allow Montana to join California and Illinois in adopting Marsy’s Law.

The signature-gathering efforts were relatively speedy and took just five months. It’s the first of 10 initiatives currently in circulation to qualify for the November ballot.

The law is named after California college student Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was killed in 1983 by a former boyfriend. A week after she was killed, her mother and brother crossed paths with the suspect in a grocery store. They were never informed that authorities had released him on bail.

Her brother, Henry Nicholas, is bankrolling a national effort to expand the law into more states. Efforts are also underway in Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Nevada, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Backed by a wealthy benefactor, supporters in Montana had little trouble collecting the necessary signatures - unlike other ballot measures that don’t have the money or necessary foot soldiers to swarm the state for support.

“It took a small army of signature gatherers,” said Charles Denowh, who helped lead the Montana effort. The campaign deployed as many as 75 paid signature gatherers earlier this year in the largest urban areas.

Three weeks ago, medicinal marijuana advocates launched a drive to place an initiative known as I-182 before voters on Nov. 8 to expand availability of the drug.

“We have enthusiasm, and discipline,” said Kate Cholewa, the initiative’s spokeswoman.

In a little over two weeks, she said, a paid staff of 20 and a crew of 40 volunteers have collected nearly a third of the 24,175 signatures required by the June 17 deadline.

Denowh said a strong grassroots organization and a committed cadre of volunteers can make a difference.

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