By Ed Walsh, Staff Writer
A bill has been introduced to the Ohio legislature to abolish the death penalty in the state. Ohio House Bill 183 and Ohio Senate Bill 103 would abolish further use of the death penalty in the state, but it has remained in committee for months. On March 3, 2022, movement on the bill was energized as the House of Representatives heard invited testimony from bill supporters: attorney Christopher Finney of Cincinnati and Laura Streitmann, executive director of Cincinnati Right to Life.
“The reality is that the death penalty is not achieving its objective, which is to reduce crime, to reduce murders,” Finney said while citing the lack of difference in murder rates between states that do or don’t have the death penalty.Finney said he opposes the death penalty as demeaning to human life and is an “extraordinary expense” to the Ohio taxpayer. “The legal requirements for death penalty cases make it many times more expensive than imposing a sentence of life in prison”, he said.
Streitmann, a frequent testifier at the Ohio statehouse for a variety of pro-life issues, testified on March 3rd for what she felt to be a natural extension of the pro-life campaign. She testified against the death penalty, calling it “inhumane” because it denies the executed of the opportunity to repent for their crimes. In her testimony she implored state representatives to pass the bill and replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole.
Both testimonies represent a growing attitude among Ohio lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Ohio House Bill 183 was sponsored by state Reps. Jean Schmidt, R-Miami Twp., and Adam Miller, D-Columbus. The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 103, was sponsored by state Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City., and Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood. “It is a companion bill”, Huffamn said, “I’m very encouraged that the House is starting to talk about it. I’m hoping we can get some momentum to get this done in this General Assembly.”
In a recent poll of Ohio lawmakers, 46 percent of Republicans felt that the state should eliminate the death penalty. In the same poll 38 percent of state democrats said they felt the same thing (fifty percent of Democrats said they were undecided on the matter). State Sen. Nickie Antonio, cosponsor of Senate Bill 103, has introduced legislation every year since she was elected to repeal the death penalty. She reported that this time she is “very optimistic” for the chances of success of this legislation citing a large amount of Republican support for the bills. She also reported that this marks the first time that legislation seeking to repeal the death penalty has been moving through both the House and Senate at the same time. Supporters of the legislation applaud the widespread bipartisan support for the bill and say that it is no longer a matter of how but when.
These bills represent the latest installment of a growing trend of Ohio lawmakers to restrict Ohio’s usage of the death penalty. In 2020, the state legislature passed HB136 which bans the use death penalty to someone found guilty of aggravated murder if it is found that they have a “serious mental illness”. Additionally, for a fourth straight year Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has delayed the executions of death row inmates, citing complications in obtaining the drugs needed for executions from pharmaceutical suppliers.
Ohio is one of the remaining states that still frequently employ the death penalty, executing 32 people in the last fifteen years. Outlawing the death penalty in Ohio is significant as it ranks sixth among states with the most executions since 2007 (Texas ranks first with 194). It is therefore a significant sign of Ohio to death penalty abolitionists to see pervasive bipartisan support for both bills in a statehouse that has been fraught with partisan divisions over its electoral districting controversies. Only the future will tell if this is the mark of meaningful change for the state or yet another in an already long line of fruitless attempts to ban the death penalty.