COLUMBUS — There’s been a summer pause in the execution of Ohio’s death row inmates and state Rep. Terry Blair would like to see that pause made permanent.
“I don’t think we have any business in taking another person’s life, even for what we call a legal purpose or what we might refer to as a justified purpose,” the Washington Twp. Republican said.
Blair is doing what he can to put his beliefs into action.
He’s one of just two Republican cosponsors of House Bill 160, legislation to abolish the death penalty in Ohio and replace it with life imprisonment without parole for the worst crimes.
That puts Blair in a distinct minority in the 59-member House Republican caucus and in alliance with two of the House’s most liberal Democrats, Reps. Ted Celeste of Grandview Heights and Nickie Antonio of Lakewood.
Celeste and Antonio are the joint sponsors of the bill.
For Blair, it’s a matter of living out his Catholic faith.
“The creeds of the church say that life is to be protected all along, from natural birth to natural death,” said Blair, 64.
He’s also a cosponsor of the “Heartbeat” bill, which would ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected.
A low-key legislator who seldom speaks on the House floor, Blair has been in the minority before in his own party.
In 2009, he was one of just five House Republicans — along with Rep. Ross McGregor of Springfield and then Rep. Peggy Lehner of Kettering — who joined Democrats in a historic vote approving gay rights legislation banning discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
That bill died in the Senate.
The legislation banning the death penalty may not get that far, but Celeste said it helps to have a Republican cosponsor in a GOP-controlled House.
Rep. Lynn Slaby, an Akron-area Republican, is chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee and said he expects to hold another hearing on the bill in early October. Slaby, a former Summit County prosecutor and state appeals court judge, is not a supporter.
“I still believe in certain very, very rare situations that it (capital punishment) has to be used extremely cautiously with good, solid evidence,” Slaby said.
By the time of the committee hearing, it’s likely that capital punishment will have resumed in the state. Since 1999, when Ohio resumed capital punishment, 45 prisoners have been executed.
Ohio prison officials have submitted a modified lethal injection procedure to a federal judge in anticipation of resuming executions next month.
The protocol was part of a filing Friday with U.S. District Court Judge Gregory L. Frost who halted a July execution because he had concerns about the state’s “haphazard” lethal injection process.
Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said the agency is moving ahead with plans for the Sept. 20 execution of Billy Slagle of Cuyahoga County.
Currently, there are 151 residents of death row, according to LoParo, spokesman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Gov. John Kasich in July put Ohio’s death penalty on hold after U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost found that the state’s lethal injection procedures were used in a haphazard way.
LoParo said the procedures have been revised and are expected to be in place for an execution scheduled for September.
Blair, meanwhile, isn’t likely to change his mind.
“At least in my belief system, there’s another judge. I’m not the one who’s to judge a person, whether to take their life or not,” he said.
Alan Johnson of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.
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