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Published: Wednesday, 6/8/2005

House OKs alerting public to parole hearings


COLUMBUS - A bill unanimously passed by the Ohio House yesterday would lead to a searchable Internet database of inmates up for parole, increasing chances that members of the public beyond victims would protest their release.

The bill is dubbed Laura's Law for Laura Skinner, a 3-year-old Fairfield County girl raped and murdered by her mother's boyfriend in 1987. After serving 16 years of a 25-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter, he was released from prison.

"In the case of Laura Skinner, the public was not aware of the parole and Laura had no family to fight for her," said Rep. Jim Hoops (R., Napoleon), the bill's sponsor. The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Under the bill, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction would be required to establish a Web site searchable by an offender's name or county. It would have to provide information on the nature of the crime, dates for parole hearings, and an address to which the public could send letters. The parole authority would be required to consider such letters. Current law gives only victims and family members such standing.

"This is already public information, but it just is not accessible by the public," Mr. Hoops said.

Bret Vinocur, president of findmissingkids.com Inc., said the Senate must act quickly. The Ohio Parole Board is accelerating consideration of thousands of parole hearings as a result of a pair of court decisions that found the board had improperly rejected parole for some inmates who served more than their minimum sentences.

"They're putting the worst of the worst up for parole," he said. "If the Department of Corrections takes too long setting up the database, the issue would be moot."

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