Tapp, Ricks and Fain

In this Feb. 11, 2020, file photo, Christopher Tapp, from left, Republican Rep. Doug Ricks and Charles Fain appeared before the Idaho House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee in Boise, Idaho, to testify in favor of legislation that would compensate the wrongly convicted.

BOISE — Almost a year after Gov. Brad Little “shocked” lawmakers by vetoing the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act, a Senate Committee has voted in favor of introducing a new version of that bill. Bill sponsor, Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, said he worked with the governor’s office to create a version that Little would approve. The Senate Judiciary and Rules committee voted to introduce the bill at its Wednesday meeting.

“We decided, based on what happened, that we do 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 told the committee.

The 2020 bill, also sponsored by Ricks when he was a member of the house, was intended to compensate those who served time in prison after being wrongfully convicted. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and almost unanimously in the House, with only one representative voting against it.

The most significant change in the new version involves how the claimant is compensated. The vetoed bill would have given claimants a total of $60,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned. The new version will give claimants $62,000 for each year. Like last year’s bill, claimants will get an additional $25,000 per year on parole and if a claimant was on death row then the annual amount is upped to $75,000 per year.

The change comes out of Little’s biggest contention with the 2020 bill. Ricks said Little took particular issue to a section of the bill that he worried would create “unfunded mandates.” It included a section that said claimants could be awarded “non-monetary relief” in addition to monetary compensation. Non-monetary relief could include “health insurance, reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical expenses, mental health counseling, tuition assistance, job assistance, and personal financial literacy assistance.” According to Ricks, Little thought these were problematic due to a lack of clarity on the funding source for this additional relief. 

“The total sum of a claimant’s compensation should be enough that the successful claimant can purchase insurance and an education if the successful claimant desires. This is a better approach than adding unfunded mandates to other parts of state government,” Little wrote in his veto message.

The additional $2,000 per year is intended to serve as compensation in lieu of any non-monetary relief.

It was an Idaho Falls case that first inspired Ricks to write the bill. Christopher Tapp served 20 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted for the murder of Angie Dodge in 1998. Tapp was released from prison in 2017 following concerns that his confession had been coerced. In 2019, new DNA evidence matched Brian Leigh Dripps to the DNA found at the crime scene. Idaho Falls Police have charged Dripped with Dodge’s murder. He is awaiting trial. 

Tapp was exonerated in 2019. In October, Tapp filed a wrongful conviction lawsuit against the city of Idaho Falls and several former Idaho Falls Police Department officers.