COLUMBUS, Ohio — There is a battle between bail legislation happening at the Ohio Statehouse: a bipartisan effort that lawmakers say would fix a broken system versus the Republican-proposed resolution that they say would promote public safety.
House Bill 315 and Senate Bill 182 are companion bills; House Joint Resolution 2 and Senate Joint Resolution 5 are, as well.
H.B. 315 (and its substitute) was introduced by state Reps. David Leland, a Democrat from Columbus, and Brett Hillyer, a Republican from Uhrichsville. S.B. 182 by Republican state Sens. Rob McColley, from Napoleon, and Stephen Huffman, from Tipp City.
H.J.R. 2 was introduced by state House Republicans Rep. Jeff LaRe, from Violet Twp., and D. J. Swearingen, from Huron. S.J.R. 5 was introduced by Republican state Senator Theresa Gavarone, from Huron.
The bipartisan bill tackles wealth-based detention and would allow a court to make pretrial decisions due to dangerousness, not wealth — strengthening the current law.
"Cash bail keeps poor people in jail who may be innocent but are still in jail because they can't afford to pay their bail, or it allows rich people to buy their freedom and then go out and commit horrific crimes," Leland said.
The bill is supposed to reduce reliance on cash bail and would promote public safety, save taxpayer dollars and ensure that all Ohioans are treated equally under the law, he added.
The resolution would amend the Constitution and require judges to consider the risk to public safety, criminal record and also includes the likelihood a person will return to court when determining bail for defendants.
"There's a lot of concern for the public and victims and their families if there's a criminal who is, you know, let loose because they can't afford bail when we have public safety that we need to consider," Gavarone said.
Lou Tobin with the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association agrees and backs the resolution.
"We've started to see cases where potentially dangerous offenders are let out pretrial and creating problems for people," he said. "As far as House Bill 315, you know, I think the problem with it is that it places an over-reliance on the safety of nonfinancial conditions of bail."
The amendment is meant to overturn an Ohio Supreme Court decision, which upheld a lower court’s ruling in Jan., that judges cannot use public safety concerns as a factor in determining bail.
Patrick Higgins with the ACLU, who supports the House bill, said that the people who are actually seen as public threats wouldn't even have the option of bail.
"We're setting high cash bail worth, then enshrining that system of wealth-based attention where the person who has money can purchase the release, even if they commit the same crime as a person who can now purchase that release," he said about the resolution. "There's as many as 12,000 people in Ohio jails who are awaiting trial — they're legally innocent, not yet convicted of a crime."
The House and the Senate were set to vote on the resolutions Wednesday, but both got postponed.