(story originally published on Gongwer)
Giving ex-convicts a better chance to land jobs and reintegrate into society is the aim of legislation that cleared the Senate and House Thursday in separate bills that will flip chambers for potential action later this year.
The proposals (SB 337
, HB 524
), which would reduce the collateral sanctions that former offenders face, gained wide support on the floors, and also have the backing of the Kasich Administration. The Senate’s vote on its version of the collateral sanctions bill was 27-4 and the House vote on its plan was 96-1.
Sen. Bill Seitz
(R-Cincinnati) said the Senate bill eliminates hurdles that reformed offenders often face when trying to put their lives back together after they are released from confinement, noting that thousands of Ohioans already have criminal backgrounds. He said the provisions should help reduce recidivism and could also boost state revenues in the form of increased tax revenue. The senator said the bill builds on sentencing law changes implemented last year (HB 86
), calling the measure the “second chapter” in an ongoing effort to update criminal laws in the state. “The work that we are doing today changes lives,” he said.
Sen. Shirley Smith
(D-Cleveland) said the measure represents a key goal of hers in coming to the General Assembly, adding that it helps give those leaving prison a chance at a fresh start in life. “This is a people issue, and it’s also the right thing to do,” she said. Sen. Smith said the bill allows people to potentially seal more criminal records when they meet certain circumstances.
Sen. Seitz amended the bill to include the unanimous recommendations of a wide-ranging work group that reviewed last year’s criminal sentencing overhaul (HB 86), saying the modification makes a handful of technical changes. The House adopted a parallel revision. While an amendment about imposing residential sanctions for those convicted of misdemeanor sentences had his support, he said it was not included because one of the key co-sponsors of the bill didn’t agree with it.
Over in the House, Rep. Ross McGregor
(R-Springfield) said the bill was an effort to help offenders that have already paid their debt to society, but find they are effectively barred from finding employment. “I’m doing this because I’m just a guy who runs a stamping plant and I know there are good, hardworking people out there who need to get jobs and need to reenter society,” he said, adding the legislation would make ex-convicts “taxpayers rather than tax burdens.”
Rep. Tracy Heard
(D-Columbus) described the measure as a continuation of last year’s effort to relieve the over-burdened prison system.
Despite the bills’ broad support in both chambers, State Public Defender Tim Young said a late addition creates new issues for juveniles looking to pull their lives together after facing adjudication. “This is a significant step in wrong direction, and the opposite of what we should be doing,” Mr. Young said in a statement. “This is a policy change that will, for the first time in the 100-plus year history of the juvenile justice system, equate juvenile court records with adult criminal records. It’s wrong from every angle. The juvenile justice system is based on rehabilitation, and we know it works because effective treatments are reducing juvenile crime.”
Kim Tandy, executive director of the Children’s Law Center, said that while last year’s sentencing law gives children a second chance to recover in the juvenile system, the legislation at hand “penalizes kids who are successfully rehabilitated by giving them a criminal record.” “HB524 and SB337 are recipes for higher costs, more crime and lengthy legal challenges,” she said. “We call on the legislature to correct this disastrous policy and hope the governor will continue his fight to reform Ohio’s justice system.”
The floor sessions in both the Senate and House can be viewed on the Ohio Channel: