The Ohio House is considering a bipartisan bill that would make it easier for non-violent offenders to receive treatment for drug addiction in lieu of a criminal conviction.
The legislation, House Bill 1, was proposed May 21 as part of a package of bipartisan bills.
“The goal is to expand opportunity for those who have made a mistake to right a wrong and become a productive member of society,” a House press release explained at the time.
The bill will also make it easier for Ohioans to have their criminal records sealed for “low-level, non-violent, non-sex offenses,” mainly drug-related convictions.
HB 1 received its second hearing Thursday before the House Criminal Justice Committee, where Daniel Dew, a legal fellow at The Buckeye Institute, testified in its favor.
“As the Committee is aware, even after a person has paid his debt to society, he often stiff faces barriers to employment, housing, and schooling,” Dew said during his testimony, and told a story of how he was personally impacted by the issues addressed in the bill.
“A few years ago, a young man approached me at church. He and his wife had attended our congregation for several years and I had gotten to know them well,” Dew explained. “They were expecting their first child, and the young man was about to graduate from a local state university where he had studied power plant technology. It took him a while to muster the courage, but eventually, with tears in his eyes, he told me that he was applying for jobs at power plants, but could not be hired because of a four-year-old misdemeanor marijuana conviction on his record.”
Dew revealed that he helped the young man “seal his record relatively quickly,” but noted that “not everyone has access to pro bono legal help.”
“Not everyone has only a minor misdemeanor to seal. That is why the provisions in House Bill 1 that will expand eligibility and lower the wait-time for record-sealing are so important,” he continued. “As Ohio continues to reform its criminal justice system, its record-sealing policies, and its treatment in lieu of conviction protocols, our citizens who have paid their debts to society will see more doors open for them as they begin their careers and start their families.”
Several legal organizations have also testified in favor of the bill, including the Ohio State Bar Association, the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the ACLU of Ohio, and the Ohio Poverty Law Center.
Timothy Young, the state public defender, said Thursday during his testimony that the Office of the Ohio Public Defender supports HB 1 because it “allows people suffering from addiction more opportunities to avoid criminal convictions and further opportunity to seal criminal convictions that act as a barrier to obtaining gainful employment.”
“Imprisoning addicts has done nothing to combat Ohio’s drug crisis,” he said. “Addiction is an illness, and Ohioans with addiction issues are suffering and need treatment. Incarceration is more expensive and, more importantly, less effective than treatment. Treatment reduces the demand for drugs, incarceration does not.”
HB 1 is still making its way through the committee process, and is sponsored by Reps. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) and Paula Hicks Hudson (D-Toledo).
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