House committee approves ‘public safety’ measures that could expand cash bail in Ohio

The House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday passed two measures that could lead to a greater reliance on cash bail. Meanwhile, lawmakers amended another bail reform measure to set explicit limits on the calculation of cash bail. Although the proposals seem to go against the grain, advocates hope the two could work together.

Proposals that would expand cash bail require judges to consider “public safety” when setting the dollar amount of pretrial release. They come in direct response to a state Supreme Court ruling that distinguished between monetary and non-monetary terms. Public safety is a valid criterion for the latter but not for the former, the court determined.

Shortly after the committee approved the measures, Justice Pat DeWine, a minority Republican in that Supreme Court ruling, took the unusual step of issuing a statement applauding it as “an important step in restoring common sense. and protect the public”.

“This constitutional amendment would allow the citizens of Ohio to decide whether the safety of the community and the rights of victims can be considered when setting bail for those charged with violent crimes such as murder and rape,” he continued. “Judges play an important role in protecting the community and it makes no sense to limit their ability to consider this important information.”

Lawmakers have accelerated the effort, at least in part, to secure a “law and order” style proposal on the November ballot as the Supreme Court’s partisan balance could potentially shift from Republican to Democratic.

DeWine is one of the judges defending his seat.

“This is simply political activity,” Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, said after the committee hearing.

“It has something to do with the anger of the majority about what is happening in the redistricting process and the Ohio Supreme Court, and also the fact that you have so many Supreme Court justices up for election in November . I think it’s a combination of both,” he said.

Leland’s own bail reform measure has been in the works for nearly a year with input from both sides of the aisle. Instead of adopting cash bail, his proposal expands the list of crimes for which defendants can be held without bail of any kind. Under an amendment approved Wednesday, it also lowers the standard of proof that prosecutors must meet for pretrial detention. If a judge sets cash bail, the proposal sets a floor of $200 and a cap of a quarter of the defendant’s monthly income.

The other measure was also not adopted in committee without modifications. On Wednesday, lawmakers approved an amendment that adds “and such other factors as the general assembly may prescribe” to legislative language. Leland argued that the provision could create a pathway for the two measures to work in concert if both become law.

“The Ohio House of Representatives would order the court not to impose bail in excess of the amounts listed in the statute, which are 25% of a person’s salary after some deductions and a floor of $200,” a- he explained. “So that would pretty much eliminate the problem that we have, with poor and middle-income people getting bail out of jail just because they can’t pay bail.”

Indeed, politically-minded members would get a tough-on-crime ballot measure in the fall, while goofy, reform-minded members would get a long-sought overhaul of Ohio’s bail system.

With the measure ordering the justices to consider removing public safety from the House committee and getting its first Senate hearing earlier this week, the proposal is well on its way to a ballot. Lawmakers have yet to muster supermajorities in both houses, but they are acting deliberately. Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican seeking re-election this fall, also threw his support behind the push.

Leland’s measure is less certain. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, the House and the Senate, are working on the idea, and they have the support of a range of outside interest groups from all political walks of life. The ACLU, which has been interested in bail reform for years, agrees, but so do tax-minded conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Buckeye Institute.

Buckeye researcher Greg Lawson admits taking the two ideas separately isn’t their favorite course, but he’s optimistic it could work.

“We would love to see these packages arrive at the same time,” he said. “Of course that is sometimes difficult to do here at the Statehouse, but that would certainly be what we would like to see, because I think the way the amendment has been changed today and the way the bills work, they can work together seamlessly. .”

With the House Criminal Justice Committee reporting favorably on the measure expanding cash bail on Wednesday, the proposal could be presented to the House as early as next week.

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