Dayton-area employers say they’re worried about the potential impact of a proposed Ohio constitutional amendment that could reduce certain drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
If approved by voters in November, the issue would cut prison time for offenders who complete rehabilitation and education programs, except if convicted of murder, rape and child molestation. People who commit felony 4 and felony 5 drug possession crimes would receive a misdemeanor with no jail time until a third offense within a 24-month period.
“If Issue 1 passes, Ohio may have some of the most lenient drug crime laws in the nation,” said Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor in a statement. “We could easily become a magnet for substance abuse activity because there will be, in effect, very little consequence to engaging in such behavior.
Under the law, O’Connor said those convicted of having less than 20 grams of powdered fentanyl would receive a misdemeanor with no chance of jail time, though the lethal dose is 2 milligrams. Instead they would be put on probation.
The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday announced its opposition to State Issue 1.
The issue also prohibits judges from sending people to prison if they violate probation with something other than a new crime.
“Unless a person was caught, charged and convicted under Issue 1 three times in two years, a judge cannot sentence them to one day in jail,” said Montgomery County prosecutor Mat Heck.
The potential effects on the Dayton-area workforce concern area business owners, said Dayton Chamber president and CEO Phil Parker.
“Our number one challenge that we keep hearing every day from our employers is: ‘How do we get skilled, competent people to work in our companies?’ And we’re having trouble day in and day out because there are people not taking seriously the drug issue in our communities,” he said.
Mike Maiberger, chief operating officer of Premier Health, one of the largest employers in the Miami Valley, said the amendment would work against the progress the Dayton area has made toward addressing opioid abuse and may risk the lives of first responders.
Issue 1 would also have a major negative financial impact on industries in the Dayton area, Wenco Construction owner Suzanne Winters said.
“Having drugs in the workplace for a construction company is a recipe for disaster,” she said. “(Substance abusers) incur more medical costs and use benefits eight times more often…and on average cost the employer $7,000 more annually. “
But proponents of the amendment say it would save lives by redirecting money saved from fewer people in prisons to the state for increased treatment and educational programs.
“We believe that Issue 1 helps to address the urgent need to fix Ohio’s broken and overcrowded prison system that puts in jail non-violent offenders at the expense of adequately funding prevention and treatment programs,” said Ohio Education Association president Becky Higgins in a prepared statement. “Too often the resources for treatment are not there.”
Bankrollers include mostly out-of state billionaires such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan along with Nicholas and Susan Pritzker of San Francisco. Supporters also include George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center, the Ohio Education Association, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Democratic nominee for governor Rich Cordray.
“Many agree that more needs to be done concerning the opiate and drug problem in Ohio and how we address it,” Heck said. “But a constitutional amendment is simply not the way to do it.”
Instead, the legislature should take further action that can be modified, repealed or tweaked after its effects on Ohio are known, which could be done through legislation rather than a constitutional amendment, he said.
Other opponents include Republican Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, the Ohio Bar Association and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine.
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