Ohio lawmakers could vote this week on expanding access to a program meant to help victims of violent crimes after the Dayton Daily News reported that some Oregon District mass shooting victims were denied aid.
Senate Bill 369 is scheduled for testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vote could follow, according to the committee agenda.
One of the planned speakers is Dion Green, whose father Derrick Fudge was killed in the Oregon District shooting. Green was denied financial assistance to help with funeral expenses and other costs because Fudge was convicted in 2011 of drug trafficking.
Current rules for the Ohio victims compensation program disqualify victims or their families from receiving assistance if the victim had a felony drug offense within the prior 10 years. The proposed change would reduce this time period to five years.
“I just hope this bill does not get swept under the rug. This bill will help so many families out that are suffering from deaths in a family due to being a victim of crime,” Green said Monday. “(Victims') past should not determine nor affect a decision for some families to receive help and counseling because of their past record.”
Another proposed change would allow victims of violent crime to receive assistance if they were in felony possession of drugs. The Dayton Daily News has reported multiple examples of crime victims being denied assistance because they had drugs in their system at the time they were victimized, even if they haven’t been charged or convicted of a crime.
One woman shot in the Oregon District was denied help with her medical bills because her blood test at the hospital found amphetamines in her system. She says she takes prescription Adderall.
“Individuals such as these, whose lives were dramatically changed through no fault of their own, are whom we seek to help with this bill,” said sponsor Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, in testimony.
The legislation would also expand compensation to family members of victims who require counseling.
Ohio’s victim compensation program rules are among the strictest in the nation. A Dayton Daily News investigation in 2017 found a woman who was the victim of sex trafficking was denied aid because drugs were found in her system when she was taken to the hospital for a rape kit. Victims can be denied aid if they are charged or accused of a crime, even if they aren’t convicted.
The program is administered by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which denied applications based on criminal history 460 times in fiscal year 2019 and 376 times in fiscal year 2020, according to a Legislative Service Commission analysis of the bill.
The LSC estimates up to 600 more people per year could get assistance because of the proposed changes, costing the fund an additional $1.8 million a year based on an average payout of $3,000. It also says the fund generally ends the year with about a $10 million cash balance.
“This suggests that the fund should have sufficient cash on hand to absorb any increase in the total amount of compensation paid out annually because of reducing the lookback period for disqualifying prior criminal convictions,” the analysis says.
The program is funded largely through drivers license reinstatement fees and court costs paid by people accused of crimes.
Lehner has advocated reforming the program for years. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine supported a previous proposal in 2018 when he was attorney general, but that bill never made it out of committee. Lehner said the bill has momentum this year with backing from Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina.
“When it appeared in the paper that Dion Green’s family was one of the ones that was limited by the restrictions in the bill currently, it sort of bounced it back up to the surface,” Lehner said.
Lehner and co-sponsor Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said in joint testimony when sponsoring the bill in September: “This piece of legislation will have a significant impact on providing much needed relief for victims and their families.”
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