Senators reverse course on criminal reform bill amendment

Ohio State Capitol building; Jodi Jacobson / Getty Images

ACLU of Ohio pledges support once again on SB 3 

Sen. John Eklund, R-Munson Twp.

Members of the Judiciary Committee unanimously decided to strip an amendment from Senate Bill 3 that had included stricter penalties for drug offenses under certain conditions. Those penalties came from adding language from the separate Senate Bill 55

Some proponents of SB 3 had responded by rescinding their support for the reform effort. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is back on board, though, after hearing of the amendment being removed. 

“SB 55 is a perpetuation and continuation of the failed War on Drugs,” ACLU’s Gary Daniels had written in a column last week entitled “Why We Now Oppose Senate Bill 3.” 

Sen. John Eklund, R-Munson Twp., chairs the Judiciary Committee and is one of the two main sponsors of SB 3, alongside Democrat Sean O’Brien of Bazetta. Eklund said at the hearing there were “very thoughtful and considered views” in response to the amendments, made at an earlier hearing on Dec. 12.

SB 55 features language that would mandate a stricter penalty if a drug offense is “committed in the vicinity of a substance addiction services provider.” Vicinity is defined as being within 1,000 feet.

Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta

“However,” Daniels writes, “because denser, urban areas offers treatment in many places, SB 55 applies in many places across Ohio. In addition, SB 55 contains no requirement that the person selling drugs knowingly sell drugs within that arbitrary distance or that they knowingly sell to a person seeking treatment … So, while SB 55 is sold as legislation with limited scope, the reality is it will have widespread negative effects.”

Eklund said the decision to remove the amendment language from SB 3 should not be interpreted as senators making a wider judgment as to the merits of SB 55. (The latter bill has already passed the Senate.) Instead, Eklund insisted, the motion is only referring to the language’s place within SB 3. 

“You’ve all been very patient,” he said at Tuesday’s hearing, which was the 10th held this year on SB 3. He said people would need to muster more patience as the bill continues to take shape.