COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The effort to abolish the death penalty has been ongoing for more than a decade in Ohio, but now there is a renewed bipartisan push to get it done.
The push began in the Ohio Senate this spring with Senate Bill 101, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City).
Now, the House is following suit with a companion bill, sponsored by Representatives Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and Adam Miller (D-Columbus).
“It astounds me that we continue to waste millions and millions of taxpayer dollars on a failed system that has never, never, proven to keep us safe,” Miller said.
“I believe life begins at conception and it ends with natural death,” Schmidt said. “The death penalty stops it because the death penalty is anything but natural.”
Schmidt was previously in favor of the death penalty but said listening to the story of one of the state’s 11 exonerees changed her mind.
“Hearing his story and understanding how the justice system can put the wrong person in prison and understanding that his life could’ve ended as an innocent person in prison made me rethink my thoughts about the death penalty,” she said.
According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 122 inmates are on death row with 31 of those having execution dates scheduled.
In central Ohio, it should come as no surprise that the county with the most inmates sentenced to death is also the most populous: Franklin County has 10 inmates. Delaware, Licking, Logan, Noble, and Vinton counties each have one inmate on death row, while others in the region have none.
Although 31 execution dates are set, those will likely get postponed. Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) has said that he “does not anticipate” any executions while he is governor. But state legislators said that’s not enough.
“The time has come for Ohio to take a step forward and abolish the death penalty,” Schmidt said.
The legislation both in the Ohio House and Senate would replace the death penalty with a life sentence without parole.
In March, Ohio Attorney General David Yost said in a statement that while this legislation brings forward a much-needed debate, he supports the death penalty for the “most heinous offenders.”
“A majority of Ohioans want this to end,” Schmidt said. “They want life without parole, they understand that the death penalty doesn’t solve the problem.”
“The death penalty is expensive, costly, time-consuming, and an ineffective means of reducing crime rates,” Miller said. “The death penalty disproportionately affects marginalized communities, and this alone tells us the system is broken.”
In a new statement on Wednesday, Yost said, “Bad ideas do not magically become good ideas simply because both of our broken political parties agree on it.”
“The death penalty cannot be fixed, and so the smart and right thing to do is just to end it,” Executive Director of Ohioans to Stop Executions Allison Cohen said.
Miller said this should be just one step in fixing the state’s criminal justice system.
“It is time to focus on investing on policies that prevent crime in the first place from happening, instead of coming on the back end,” Miller said.
The Senate has held one hearing on the bill, and while Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) is generally against it, he said he would bring it to the floor if his caucus supports it. Schmidt said Ohio House leadership is also supportive of its bill.