COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTRF) - The Reagan Tokes Act has two versions here at the Ohio Statehouse. The House Bill version which addresses sentencing of violent offenders and GPS monitoring; the Senate version splits the two issues into separate bills, one for GPS monitoring and another for the sentencing of violent offenders.
At one point, the bills carried identical text but that is no longer the case.
As is wont to happen when legislation is worked on by lawmakers, things change. Concessions are made and amendments are sometimes added, or parts of bills are stripped away.
There is a slight but significant difference between the Senate and House bills language on sentencing reforms where one allows for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) to handle the determination of more time being needed behind bars, and the other having judges make those decisions.
The difference could cost the state tens of millions annually and over 20 years more than $3 billion could be racked up according to the Ohio State Public Defender Tim Young.
“We believe it would be foolish for our legislature to go forward and vote on this bill with at least not knowing; they need to know how much this costs,” said Young.
Young’s office has had to calculate their estimation based on public data from the ODRC because Young says the department has refused to provide a cost estimate on the House bill itself.
The ODRC has weighed in on an estimate for the Senate bill and it adds roughly $45 million saying it would add tens of millions of dollars in costs annually and require the building of a new state prison.
Young says, based on those estimates and the slight difference in who gets to decide when sentences are over, the cost of the House bill skyrockets to $191 million annually and an additional $700 million to build 3 new prisons.
Young says the House version of the bill is stricter than the Senate version and will result in more people spending more time in prison, hence the need for more prisons as shown in the Senate assessment and extrapolated for the House version.
“We have to be 150% accurate when we come over here with this,” said Young. “The legislative service commission hasn’t published numbers; the department of corrections hasn’t published numbers; somebody needs to tell everybody what this costs.”
Young says it is easy to brush off his office’s warnings, but they have repeatedly been proven to be correct when they have warned against things legislators have tried to do. He gave several examples in Tuesday’s House Criminal Justice committee hearing.
A sponsor of the bill and committee member State Representative Jim Hughes was unmoved by Young’s assessment of the bill’s costs.
“What is a life worth? To me, to the Reagan Tokes family, as well as everybody else there is no amount of money that we should not have spent to make sure that person was incarcerated so it did not happen to that Reagan Tokes family,” said Hughes.
Hughes went on to call violent offenders like the man who kidnapped, raped, and killed Tokes animals who needed to be locked up so they could not prey on people like Tokes.
Young calls the legislation a vengeance bill and says now the decision is in the hands of the lawmakers.
“If our goal is to just lock people up because we’re really mad at them and not prevent crime, Reagan Tokes is the bill you want; but it’s very expensive to do that,” said Young. “If you want to prevent crime, there are a lot better ways to spend 3 billion dollars.”
Members of the committee passed the House version of the Reagan Tokes act out of the Criminal Justice Committee and sent it to the House Chamber where it will await a floor vote by the entire body.
If it passes the chamber, it will go to the Senate where they will begin working on it.
It should be noted that the Senate has already passed one of its Reagan Tokes Act bills, the one dealing with sentencing reforms. That bill has been assigned to the same House Committee that just passed this bill Tuesday.
The other Senate bill, which deals with GPS monitoring, is still mired in a Senate Committee.