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Several bail reform measures on the table for Ohio lawmakers

Sign for bail bonds services in Columbus.
Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
Sign for bail bonds services in Columbus.

There are five different pieces of legislation in the Ohio General Assembly that would make significant changes to the state's laws on bail, which includes a proposed statewide ballot issue.

The topic of bail reform has been discussed in the Ohio Statehouse for years, but it gained renewed interest after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that judges could not consider "public safety"when setting bail.

House Republicans want to amend the state constitution to offset that supreme court ruling by passing a resolution, HJR2, that says – when determining how much bail should be posted – a judge must consider public safety, a person's criminal record, the likelihood that person will return to court, and the seriousness of the offense.

That resolution passed the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday, and could get a vote in the full House chamber next week. An identical resolution, SJR5, has been introduced in an Ohio Senate committee.

Attorney General Dave Yost, prosecuting attorneys, and some judges are supporting the constitutional amendment.

Yost, a Republican, said the resolution will allow voters to lend their voice to the issue.

"Ohioans can definitively instruct the court with their votes about their desire for public safety to be restored to the bail analysis," Yost said.

The resolution would also strip the Ohio Supreme Court's ability to prescribe rules related to the amount and conditions of bail.

A companion bill, HB607, would enact laws in the Ohio Revised Code to support the potential constitutional changes.

Bipartisan push for a different approach

But there are other Republican and Democratic lawmakers looking at a different approach.

Instead of protecting public safety through bail, legislators are considering bills that change the pretrial detention system to expand the use of a conditions of release hearing.

Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) said his bill, HB315, gives a judge the ability to fully assess a potential threat to public safety and determine if the person should be released or not. Leland and bail reform advocates said this is a better system than hoping to keep the public safe by setting a high amount of bail that could still be met.

Leland, who is sponsoring the bill with Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Urichsville), said their measure "gives the court additional authority and additional tools to protect the public from people who may be a threat to an individual person or the community."

That House bill has a companion piece of legislation in the Senate, SB182, which also has bipartisan support.

A coalition of liberal-leaning and conservative-leaning groups has supported these measures, including the ACLU of Ohio, The Buckeye Institute, and Americans for Prosperity.

The resolutions would need a three-fifths majority vote in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate to be placed on a statewide ballot.

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