Ohio House delays vote on constitutional amendment to change bail laws

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A measure that could put an issue to change bail laws on the November ballot has been delayed, but Republican legislative leaders say they expect the resolution to see movement again soon.

The House resolution, HJR2, would put a statewide ballot issue before voters in the general election. The issue would amend the state constitution to allow judges to consider “public safety” when determining a detained person’s bail and strip the Ohio Supreme Court’s ability to prescribe rules related to the amount and conditions of bail.

The resolution was scheduled for a vote on the House floor Wednesday, but just hours before session, House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said lawmakers needed more time to discuss the measure.

The proposed constitutional amendment was introduced at a time when Republican and Democratic lawmakers were already discussing broader reforms for the bail system.

Advocates have said changes needed to be made to the laws and the factors considered when determining how much a detained person charged with a crime should pay to be released.

Cupp alluded to these proposed reforms – championed by both conservative and liberal groups – when announcing that a vote on the constitutional amendment would be delayed.

“How do you set bail generally, the amount of bail, and whether people are kept in jail – even though they’re nonviolent offenses – simply because they can’t afford to get out. So that’s an ongoing discussion,” said Cupp.

The House resolution was the response to an Ohio Supreme Court decision. In DuBose v. McGuffey, the court ruled 4-3 that public safety should not be a consideration when determining bail because the state already has a different procedure in which public safety is used as a factor for release – a pre-trial hearing for release.

Following that ruling, Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, joined prosecutors and some judges in calling for a constitutional amendment. The same resolution, SJR5, has been introduced in an Ohio Senate committee.

The other proposals to change bail, HB315 and SB182, are bipartisan measures which are backed by conservative and liberal groups that advocate for criminal justice system reform. Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) said the House bill, which he co-sponsored, would expand the process for pre-trial release hearings. He and other lawmakers say that is the process that should be used to consider public safety as a factor for release.

Cupp said the resolution for a constitutional amendment could be up for a House floor vote next week.

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