COLUMBUS — A bipartisan Ohio Senate bill to further combat the opioid epidemic was announced Wednesday.
At a news conference, state Sens. John Eklund, R-Munson Township; Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta; Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati; and Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, outlined Senate Bill 3, a comprehensive plan for drug-sentencing reform.
The bill hopes to target prosecution on trafficking offenses and give judges a track for promoting treatment for possession charges before imposing jail time. Eklund said the bill is a working document, and senators will be getting further input from judicial and addiction experts in the coming weeks.
“That’s the real intent of it, to help Ohioans,” O’Brien said. “Not to criminalize specifically drug possession, but drug offenses done by pushers and traffickers. … We want to get those who are pushing the drugs into jail, those that are merely caught up in the epidemic, we want to work with them to get them out of the cycle that they’re in.”
Eklund said the single most important change the bill would create is redefining trafficking offenses. It would create three tiers: aggravated, major and trafficking, based on the amount of drugs found on an individual.
The higher amounts would be considered aggravated, carrying the strictest penalty and be considered a felony. Below those amounts, trafficking would be an unclassified misdemeanor. The bill also would eliminate prosecution on trace amounts of a substance.
Other features include changing court jurisdiction by proposing municipal courts cannot hear newly classified cases unless they have their own drug court. Otherwise, cases will be heard in the local Common Pleas Court. It also would allow judges to hold criminal charges for nonviolent first-time possession charges in abeyance pending a treatment program. If the offender successfully completes the program, the judge can dismiss the charges, Eklund said.
When asked for a timeline, Eklund said he hopes to have the bill over to the House before the end of the summer.
After the conference, Manning noted in a statement the bill would provide “much-needed” reforms in the state.
“Senate Bill 3 emphasizes rehabilitation and moves non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of incarcerating them in state prisons,” said Manning. “This approach will offer many people a second chance. Equally important, it will reduce recidivism rates — meaning our communities will be safer.”