Ohio legislation to add public safety, more cash bail passes committee

(The Center Square) – A push to have Ohio judges consider public safety when setting bail took a step forward when the House Criminal Justice Committee advanced legislation supported by prosecutor and business groups across the state.

House Bill 607 adds the risk of public safety into bail consideration in direct response to an Ohio Supreme Court decision in Debuse v. McGuffey, a ruling that upheld an appellate court’s decision permitting the reduction of a murder suspect’s bail without considering community safety.

“The Ohio Supreme Court has effectively created a binary choice for judges and prosecutors: either the offender is so dangerous that the prosecution should seek an outright denial of bail, or failing to reach this high standard, bail must be set irrespective of the possible harm the offender may cause in the community,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost testified before the committee. “HB607 makes abundantly clear that public safety must be considered when setting bail under Ohio law, and also expressly states that the intent of the bill is to supersede the effect and holding of the Dubose decision."

The legislation also received proponent testimony from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

At the same time, the committee passed House Joint Resolution 2, which proposes a constitutional amendment which would eliminate the requirement the amount and conditions of bail be set by the constitution.

Instead, it proposes courts to make decisions based on public safety, a person’s criminal record, the likelihood someone will return to court and the seriousness of the offense.

If passed, the amendment would appear on the ballot in November.

Opponents say the proposed amendment calls for the state’s increased reliance on cash bail, which would negatively impact low-income people in jail awaiting trial.

“There is no evidence that imposing high cash bail is effective at keeping the public safe. We’ve seen wealthy individuals buy their freedom and commit more crimes. Cash bail only gives us the illusion of safety,” said Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus.

The Buckeye Institute, a Columbus-based think tank, agrees.

“Changing Ohio’s constitution to expand cash bail will not prevent dangerous, violent offenders from buying their way out of jail and preying on our communities,” said Robert Alt, president and chief executive officer of The Buckeye Institute. “As currently written, House Joint Resolution 2 simply does not provide the level of public safety Ohioans deserve, and we can do better.”

Leland proposed House Bill 315, with bipartisan support, that supporters say would reform the bail process to promote public safety and save taxpayers money by providing bail opportunities for those eligible.

That bill has had two hearings in the Criminal Justice Committee but only sponsor testimony.

“No innocent person should have to pay a ransom for their freedom while waiting for a court hearing. The Republican bail bills will only increase the racial bias in our existing cash bail system,” said Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland. “All Ohioans deserve to be treated fairly under the law, regardless of their race. That’s why we need to take action on HB315, a crucial first step in reforming our criminal justice system.”

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