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Senate approves juvenile crime bill

COLUMBUS - The rhetoric was hot, but majority Republicans in the Ohio Senate had little difficulty yesterday shipping a bill to Governor Taft that could send 10-year-old children to detention facilities if they commit violent crimes.

“A 10-year-old child potentially could spend the rest of their lives - 80 years - behind bars in the system,” said state Sen. Ben Espy (D., Columbus).

“I think it's archaic. I think we're going back to the days of recognizing that children aren't children.”

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Robert Latta (R., Bowling Green), lowers the age of children who can be sent to state juvenile facilities from 12 to 10.

It covers 10 and 11-year-olds who commit murder, arson, or other violent first and second-degree felonies.

The Senate passed the bill on March 22. The House approved it Nov. 9 with some amendments, and the Senate voted 20-13 yesterday to agree with those changes. Governor Taft is expected to sign the bill into law.

Only one Republican, state Sen. Lynn Wachtmann of Napoleon, joined the Democrats in opposition.

“I just don't support throwing away the keys on 10 and 11-year-olds,” Mr. Wachtmann said.

The bill - introduced in response to a sharp increase in juvenile crime during the last decade - would enable the courts to sentence juveniles to youth detention facilities with the threat of additional time in state prisons if they misbehave.

Although Mr. Latta did not debate Mr. Espy on the Senate floor, he cited a memo from Dave Diroll, executive director of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission, that concluded: “... only in a rare case could a 10-year-old end up with a life sentence.”

For that to happen, a 10-year-old would have to commit murder or aggravated murder, the prosecutor would have to seek a blended sentence, and a judge would have to judge the child competent to stand trial.

After turning 14, the child would have to commit another violent crime and a court would have to invoke the adult sentence of life in prison with parole eligibility after 15 to 20 years.

Also yesterday, the Senate voted to not accept House amendments to a bill that originally would have allowed parents to force volunteer groups to do background checks on people who work with their children.

The House softened the bill, offering legal immunity to nonprofit groups as a way to convince them to do background checks without the fear of being sued if the check missed a crime.

At the urging of the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Bruce Johnson (R., Columbus), the Senate voted 20-13 to send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee to try to hash out the differences.

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