Ohio Issue 1 hot topic during Butler County budget talks

Talk turned to State Issue 1 on the November ballot several times while Butler County officials discussed 2019 spending plans last week.

Voters on Nov. 6 will decide whether they want a constitutional amendment that makes possessing or using drugs like fentanyl, heroin, meth, cocaine, LSD and other controlled substances a misdemeanor rather than felony offense. Other provisions also make punishment for drug offenses less harsh and focus on treatment.

RELATED: Butler County coroner, sheriff weigh in on Issue 1

Juvenile Court Judge Ron Craft said the ballot initiative would not necessarily have an impact on the newly resurrected Family Drug Court — that is under his jurisdiction — because it is a civil, voluntary venue to help drug addicted parents reunite with their kids. But it will definitely impact courts in general.

“It’s been my experience if someone is in our drug court and falls off, you give them a chance and they fall off again, maybe four, five, seven days in the Butler County Jail kind of gets their attention to get back in the swing of things,” Craft said. “Nobody really wants to do that, but if you take that away, and Issue 1 would basically take that away, it will have a major impact on drug courts all over Ohio if it does pass.”

Because these drug offenses would no longer be felonies, Area Court Judge Dan Haughey said that is all the more reason his court recently decided to open its own probation department. The judges there said they needed probation officers on duty in all three of their courts to prevent offenders from shirking the supervision requirements, something they said the Common Pleas Probation Department wouldn’t provide.

ExploreCLOSER LOOK: What is State Issue 1 on the Ohio ballot this fall?

However, he told the Journal-News the county, from the prosecutor to the entire court system, have already been operating under the spirit of the proposed amendment, making every effort to get drug offenders who want it, the help they need. He just had a visit from the Ohio Supreme Court this week as part of the certification process for his drug court.

“Part of the reason that Issue 1 gets some of the traction it’s getting is people don’t understand what is already being done within the court systems to address this,” he said. “Believe you me we’re not sitting idly by waiting for the skies to part and some solutions to come down in a ray of light.”

Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix hasn’t had her hearing with the commissioners yet, but her opposition is clear.

"If we are going to empty the prisons, we are going to fill the morgue and that is not what our community needs, so Issue 1 is a bad idea," Mannix said during a press conference earlier this month.

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• Convert felony 4 and felony 5 drug possession and drug use crimes to misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period

• Keep drug trafficking crimes as felonies

• Prohibit judges from sending people to prison if they violate probation with something other than a new crime, such as missing an appointment

• Cut prison time for offenders who complete rehabilitation programs, except those convicted of murder, rape or child molestation

• Put money saved by fewer people going to prison into drug treatment and crime victim programs

• Allow people convicted of certain drug crimes to petition the court for re-sentencing or release or to have the charge changed

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