As we dive into a new year, here is an update on criminal-legal legislation at the Ohio Statehouse

Compilation and analysis by OJPC’s Policy Director, Kevin Werner

Senate Bills Pending:

Senate Bill 3 (Eklund-R, O’Brien-D) 
Express intent to reform drug sentencing laws. 
S.B. 3 had its 10th hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 17. This bill is a direct result of the 2018 Issue 1 campaign that garnered more signatures than any other ballot initiative in Ohio history. The bill reclassifies low level drug-related felonies into unclassified misdemeanors. S.B. 3 is a priority for OJPC because it will safely reduce the population of Ohio’s overcrowded prisons. It will also steer people away from prisons and into drug treatment. S.B. 3 allows some people with drug-related offenses to seal more records sooner.

Outlook: Expect S.B. 3 to begin moving again in early 2020. It’s possible the bill is tweaked with further amendments, but the chairman of the committee is likely to to bring the bill for a committee vote in January.

Senate Bill 18 (Antonio-D, Lehner-R) 
Prohibit restraining or confining pregnant female offender. 
S.B. 18 restricts the use of solitary confinement and shackling of pregnant prisoners.  Solitary confinement for pregnant women is especially dangerous for the physical and mental health of the mother, which has adverse consequences on the health and well-being of the baby.  OJPC strongly supports passage of S.B. 18. OJPC attorney Tiffany Smith testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October saying, “The use of restraints during labor and delivery is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Ohio and federal constitutions, poses a substantial risk for serious harm, and demonstrates deliberate indifference to a prisoner’s serious medical needs…S.B. 18 presents an opportunity to ban dangerous, inhumane, and degrading practices and to create better health outcomes for mothers and children.”

Outlook: S.B. 18 was passed by the full Senate on November 13 by a vote of 31-0. The House has not assigned the bill to any committee yet, but with no opponents, expect the House to begin hearings on the bill in the first quarter of 2020.

Senate Bill 54 (Eklund-R, Williams-D) 
Prohibit death penalty if offender seriously mentally ill. 
S. B. 54 is a companion bill to the House version Am. Sub. H.B. 136 (Hillyer-R), which passed the House in June 2019. S.B. 54 was amended to match the version passed in the House, however, it has laid idle since the Senate Judiciary Committee began moving the companion bill in July.

Outlook: S.B. 54 is nearly obsolete and not likely to be passed since Am. Sub. H.B. 136 is much farther along in the legislative process.

Senate Bill 55 (Gavarone-R) 
Drug trafficking. 
S.B. 55 increases penalties for most drug trafficking offenses when the trafficker is within 1,000 feet of a treatment facility or treatment service provider. OJPC’s analysis of S.B. 55 is that it will significantly undermine any reform gains made via H.B. 1 or S.B. 3 that intended to divert people from prison into treatment. S.B. 55 is an example of legislation that will increase Ohio’s prison population and do so for longer periods of time.

Outlook: S.B. 55 passed the Ohio Senate in May 2019 and was pushed through the House Criminal Justice Committee in November 2019. Expect the full House to pass the bill in January or February 2020.

Senate Bill 160 (O’Brien-D, Rulli-R) 
Provides mechanism for expungement of records of old convictions. 
This bill is a positive step forward for Ohioans who have made mistakes in the past. It allows for expungement of certain non-violent, non-sexual offense records through an application process to the sentencing court in which the offense was adjudicated after specified time periods. For felonies and misdemeanors of the third, fourth and fifth degree, the waiting period is 10 years; felonies of the second degree is 15 years; felonies of the first degree are 20 years. OJPC supports this type of legislation but has suggestions to offer for its sponsors dealing with respect to the court hearing process.

Outlook: After sponsor and proponent testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee in July and September 2019, respectively, the bill is likely to come back onto the committee agenda in February and should clear the Senate before the end of the 133rd General Assembly. It is not likely to pass both chambers and become law given the truncated legislative calendar of the 2020 election year.

Senate Bill 256 (Manning-R, Lehner-R) 
Regards sentencing offenders under 18 when committed offense. 
S.B. 256 ends life without parole sentences for children under the age of 18 prospectively. The bill creates a new category called “aggravated homicide offense” for the purposes of resentencing only. Any individuals already serving sentences of life without parole, a sentence of life imprisonment, a definite sentence; or any person who was sentenced to an indefinite prison term who was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime is eligible to be resentenced. “Aggravated homicide offenses” are not eligible for resentencing.

Outlook: The bill was introduced December 23 in the Senate. Expect the bill to be assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee and for sponsor testimony and hearings to begin in February.

House Bills Pending:

House Bill 1 (Plummer-R, Hudson Hicks-D) 
Modifying intervention in lieu of conviction/sealing requirements. 
OJPC supports H.B. 1, another piece of legislation introduced in the wake of 2018’s Issue 1 campaign. H.B. 1 expands intervention in lieu of conviction (ILC) availability by creating a presumption that ILC is appropriate. The bill also expands eligibility for criminal-record sealing and shortens the time period before a person can apply to have records sealed.

RELATED: H.B. 1 versus S.B. 3

House Bill 3 (Boyd-D, Carruthers-D) 
Domestic violence. 
H.B. 3 adds domestic violence to the offenses of aggravated murder and endangering children. The bill also creates local domestic violence high risk teams and requires law enforcement officers to use qualified lethality assessment screening tools when working with high risk victims. While the bill vastly improves training for law enforcement and local services for victims of domestic violence, the bill expands Ohio’s death penalty law by including domestic violence as an aggravating factor. The impact of adding another aggravating factor will dramatically increase the number of death-eligible offenses in Ohio and lead to more indictments with death penalty specifications. Translation: Ohio will see an uptick in the numbers of death penalty cases initiated by Ohio prosecutors in select counties.

Outlook: H.B. 3 has laid idle in the House Criminal Justice Committee since June 2019 when a substitute bill was offered. OJPC has not taken a position on the bill. Given the short legislative calendar in 2020, it is unlikely the bill will pass both chambers before the end of the year. What’s more is this bill expands the death penalty at a time when leaders in the House and executive branch are openly discussing ending Ohio’s death penalty.

Am. Sub. House Bill 136 (Hillyer-R) 
Prohibit death penalty if mentally ill at time of offense. 
H.B. 136 will exempt from the death penalty individuals with one or more of four qualifying severe mental illnesses at the time a crime is committed. The bill is retroactive and is opposed only by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association. OJPC has been working on this bill with partners since 2015. The bill passed the full House in June 2019 and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it has had five hearings. After the most recent hearing where the bill was amended, the committee chairman said, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s good to go.”

Outlook: 136 will likely be voted through the Senate in January or February. Since the Senate amended the House version, the House will have to agree to the Senate’s changes. Expect Ohio to become the first death-penalty state to enact such a law.  

House Bill 263 (Kohler-R) 
Occupational licensing. 
This bill changes when and for what reason(s) a state agency can deny an initial professional licensing. Agencies that issue professional licenses may only deny them to individuals with criminal records under certain conditions. If an agency refuses to issue a license, the agency must explain the refusal to the applicant, the applicant’s right to an administrative hearing, the earliest date applicant may reapply and applicant’s ability to offer evidence of rehabilitation. The bill also established a five-year period in which an applicant must maintain a clean record before applying for a professional license.

RELATED: Ohio’s “Wasted Assets” report on unemployment and underemployment due to criminal convictions

Outlook: 263 should be voted out of the House Commerce & Labor Committee in January, pass the full House in February then move on to the Senate for consideration. OJPC supports this bill provided several changes are made to bring consistency in removing disqualifiers such as “moral turpitude” “moral character.”