COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The death penalty could be abolished in Ohio under upcoming bipartisan legislation announced Tuesday — the latest in what has been years of effort to end capital punishment in the state.
State senators from both sides of the aisle called for an end to the practice, citing the financial blow to taxpayers to keep an inmate on death row, the lack of lethal injection drugs that has led to an unofficial moratorium on executions in the state, the danger of executing an innocent person and questions over a state’s right to end a life.
“This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” said bill sponsor Sen. Nickie Antonio, a Lakewood Democrat. ”No matter what a person’s reason for supporting this legislation, it’s critical for our own collective humanity.”
The proposal is far from new. Antonio and GOP Sen. Steve Huffman of Tipp City introduced the measure last session. It failed to get any traction, as it has for several legislative sessions despite support from some of the majority Republicans.
But growing public opposition to the death penalty has Antonio hopeful this time around, she said at Tuesday’s press conference, as does a fresh General Assembly that includes a dozen Senators who support ending the death penalty.
First-term Republican Sen. Michelle Reynolds said she backs the measure because she is “pro-life” and believes human life should not be used as a bargaining chip.
“Life is our most precious gift, and our statutes should uphold and uplift this,” Reynolds said.
It’s not clear where legislative leadership could take the bill. GOP Senate President Matt Huffman — Steve Huffman’s cousin — supports the death penalty, though he previously said he’s open to debate and discussion on the topic. Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens also said he was open to further debate in Legislature.
Currently, Ohio has an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment, after GOP Gov. Mike DeWine instructed lawmakers to find an alternative method to lethal injection, citing the state’s inability to obtain the needed drugs. He has delayed several executions since.
The state’s last execution was July 18, 2018, when Ohio put to death Robert Van Hook for killing David Self in Cincinnati in 1985. Ohio currently has 134 people on death row, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposes the legislation, calling it “dangerous” and saying it would cut Ohio’s “worst criminals” a break.
Republican Attorney General Dave Yost, a supporter of the death penalty, said in a statement that the bill provides a platform to discuss a needed overhaul of Ohio’s capital punishment system, calling it “a farce and a broken promise of justice.”
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.