COLUMBUS - In a surprise move yesterday, the Ohio House approved a bill requiring an in-depth study into the 200-plus cases on death row that could lead to recommendations for possible changes in the judicial system.
The bill would not enact a moratorium on executions, which would likely continue over the 12 to 18 months that the 18-member panel of lawmakers, judges, psychologists, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and others would meet.
Rep. Tom Brinkman, a highly conservative Cincinnati Republican, stunned some members of his own caucus when he offered the amendment to a bill increasing mandatory sentences for certain sexual predator crimes.
The amendment passed 64-30, and the final bill was approved 85-8. It drew votes from people on both sides of the capital punishment debate.
Time is running out, however, for Senate passage. The chamber has just six to nine legislative days before the current session ends. Senate President Doug White (R., Manchester) had yet to review the bill and declined to comment on its chances.
"I wouldn't deny it if people thought I was trying to get the camel's nose under the tent," said Mr. Brinkman. "I am against capital punishment. This is the type of thing that exposes it. I think one of the things they need to look at is how much it costs to kill these guys. It's cheaper to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives."
The content of the amendment was initially proposed as a bill by Rep. Shirley Smith (D., Cleveland). It calls for a study of both the imposition and administration of the death penalty, including whether defendants had adequate legal representation.
Rep. Jim Hughes (R., Columbus), a former prosecutor, voted against the amendment but ultimately in favor of the final bill with its increased sentences for serious sex offenses. "This is the first wedge in getting rid of the death penalty," he said. "Don't be fooled. Yes, I'm very much pro-death. I have seen the victims' families, and I've seen the pictures of what these people do to these people."
Since 1999, when Ohio resumed carrying out the death penalty, the state has executed 15 men. There are now 203 men and one woman on death row.
"Politically, the best in this General Assembly that we can get is a study, not a moratorium," said Jim Toban of the Ohio Catholic Conference and Ohioans to Stop Executions.
Yes votes from northwest Ohio included Reps. Jeanine Perry (D., Toledo), Edna Brown (D., Toledo), Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo), Lynn Olman (R., Maumee), Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island), and John Willamowski (R., Lima).
Regional lawmakers opposing the amendment were Reps. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), Jim Hoops (R., Napoleon), Mike Gilb (R., Findlay), Stephen Buehrer (R., Delta), Jeff Wagner (R., Sycamore), Kathleen Walcher (R., Norwalk), and Stephen Reinhard (R., Bucyrus). None voted against the bill on final passage.
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