House leaders press pause on cash bail provisions

By: - May 19, 2022 4:00 am

Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima. Source: Ohio General Assembly.

A proposal directing judges to consider public safety when setting cash bail is in limbo after House leaders backtracked on holding a floor vote. The provisions — one statutory and one meant for the ballot — faltered because some Republican members want to see a broader bail reform measure pass alongside them.

“There was discussion about broader bail reform,” House Speaker Robert Cupp explained, “so members need a little time to sort of sort those things out.”

Cupp voiced support for the underlying policy, and added that he expected the measures to come back before the House “very soon.”

To get the cash bail measure on the ballot this year, sponsors must cobble together a 60% supermajority, and fast — lawmakers break for summer recess early next month, and the ballot deadline is in August.

Before Wednesday’s House session, Reps. Jeff LaRe, R-Violet Township, and D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, expressed frustration at the last-minute delay for their measures.

“The resolution and the bill need to happen now, because in our opinion, public safety can’t be considered when setting bail amounts at this moment in time,” Swearingen said. “So that needs an immediate fix, and it needs to go. It should go today.”

“I’m willing to work with the bill sponsor however he sees fit to move his bill through the committee process,” LaRe said of the wider bail reform measure. “But at the same time, we’re comparing the joint resolution, two pages, to a complete overhaul of the bail system, that’s over 200.”

LaRe and Swearingen’s legislation is a direct response to a January state supreme court ruling. In it, the justices reiterated the Ohio and U.S. Constitution prohibit “excessive” cash bail, and because of that, lower courts must set aside public safety when determining a dollar amount for pre-trial release.

Judges are more than welcome, the opinion said, to consider public safety when it comes to non-monetary terms of release, like drug testing, regular check-ins or electronic monitoring. The justices also noted existing law provides a means of holding many potentially dangerous defendants without offering bail of any kind.

The broader bail reform measure has been the subject of negotiation for the last year — sponsor Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, noted Wednesday’s session was the literal anniversary of its introduction. The proposal has buy-in from members in both chambers and both sides of the aisle, as well as the support of outside organizations that span the political spectrum.

Instead of leaning on cash bail, Leland’s measure expands the range of offenses eligible for pre-trial detention and it lowers the evidentiary threshold prosecutors must meet. Leland believes his proposal can work in concert with LaRe and Swearingen’s, thanks to a provision added to their measure last week.

As committee chair, LaRe has control over how quickly, or slowly, the measure now apparently holding up his own advances through committee. But it’s Leland who seems less concerned about the ticking clock.

“Listen,” he said, “I’ve been in the House long enough to know that if people want to get something done, they’ll get it done.”



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.