Bill seeking changes in bail rules hits snag in Ohio House

The Ohio Supreme Court is considering changing the state’s rules for setting bail in criminal cases, which could have a big impact on the liberty of thousands of Ohioans and on how much taxpayers pay for jail expenses.

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The Ohio Supreme Court is considering changing the state’s rules for setting bail in criminal cases, which could have a big impact on the liberty of thousands of Ohioans and on how much taxpayers pay for jail expenses.

A controversial measure to rewrite the Ohio Constitution’s standards for setting bail was put on hold in the state House on Wednesday.

Substitute House Joint Resolution 2 and matching House Bill 607 came up for votes by the full chamber, but on a motion by state Rep. Timothy Ginter, R-Columbiana County, both were “informally passed” — not receiving a vote, but kept on the legislature’s calendar for further work.

That delays any potential vote with less than a month left in the legislative session. Both measures would still need committee and floor votes to be sent on for Senate consideration.

The resolution and bill are sponsored by state Reps. Jeff LaRe, R-Violet Twp., and D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron. Both were introduced in March and hurried through four committee hearings, and they passed the House Criminal Justice Committee last week.

The resolution seeks to place an initiative on the November 8 ballot that would write new requirements for setting bail into the Ohio Constitution.

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The state constitution says anyone can be bailed by “sufficient sureties,” unless they’re charged with a capital offense or felony when “proof is evident or the presumption great,” and if their release poses a risk to the community. The proposed amendment would remove that language, instead saying only that in setting bail, courts must consider public safety, the person’s criminal record, the likelihood they would flee and seriousness of their offense.

Swearingen has amended the resolution to add “any factor that the General Assembly may describe” to those conditions.

House Bill 607 echoes the language of the proposed constitutional amendment.

“In all cases, bail must be fixed with consideration of the seriousness of the offense charged, the previous criminal record of the defendant, and the probability of the defendant appearing at the trial of the case,” says an analysis from the state Legislative Research Commission. “The bill expands these factors to require that bail must be fixed with consideration of all relevant information, including the risk to public safety.”

State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Huron, has introduced a companion to HJR 2. Senate Joint Resolution 5 had its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1.

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The ACLU of Ohio urged rejection of both measures. It supports a rival bill, House Bill 315, which is still in the House Criminal Justice Committee. That bill, sponsored by state Reps. David Leland, D-Columbus, and Brett Hillyer, R-Uhrichsville, seeks to end the wealth-based disparity in treatment created by someone’s ability to pay cash bail.

Leland said in committee his bill’s most important provision is a “massive expansion” of the rules for pretrial detention, adding more than 50 crimes to the list of those for which a judge would need to determine the risk that releasing a prisoner would pose to others.

A Senate bill matching HB 315, sponsored by state Sens. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, and Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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