COLUMBUS—Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) today announced the Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 3, bipartisan legislation which updates Ohio’s possession, sealing, and trafficking laws and focuses on the rehabilitation of Ohioans suffering from drug addiction.
The legislation, jointly sponsored by Senator John Eklund (R-Munson Township) and Senator Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta), builds on other major criminal justice reforms the Senate has passed over the last several years to help Ohioans find support as they fight to beat the cycle of addiction, provide local courts with flexibility, and reform Ohio’s sentencing laws, including intervention in lieu of conviction and a presumption against prison time for many low-level, non-violent offenders.
“Senate Bill 3 is about being smart on crime and following policies that lead to not only a second chance for Ohioans battling addiction, but also to safer communities across our state,” said President Obhof, who co-sponsored the bill. “Under this bill, Ohio will go after the traffickers who prey on our communities, and it will help victims break the cycle of addiction and have a chance at redemption.”
“Low-level, non-violent drug offenders make up the fastest growing portion of the state’s prison population. The goal of Senate Bill 3 is to ‘arrest’ the problem and get Ohioans who are struggling with addiction help before their offenses could mean jail time,” said bill sponsor and Judiciary chair Senator Eklund. “We want people to get better and move on to lead productive lives, and I have great appreciation for the Ohioans who shared their very personal stories and spent countless hours during this process to help us provide real hope and real progress.”
“It has become clear that our current approach to drug sentencing is not effective,” added Senator O’Brien. “During committee, we heard extensive testimony from various experts, including law enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors, and we now have a bill that will help us keep people struggling with addiction out of prison, while punishing the right people – drug traffickers. This is the crux of SB 3.”
Specifically, the bill would make possession of small amounts of drugs an unclassified misdemeanor charge with a presumption of treatment, but subject to a maximum one-year jail sentence if the court deems the offender a threat to others. Fentanyl and sexual assault-enabling drugs would be excluded from the reclassification, and the individual may face a felony possession charge if they have been convicted of two possession offenses within three years.
By reforming record sealing procedures, Senate Bill 3 seeks to remove the “scarlet letter” of prior possession convictions so that a recovering offender faces fewer obstacles to finding gainful employment and housing as the individual works toward an addiction-free life. The proposed legislation would permit misdemeanor possessions, as well as F4 and F5 drug possessions, to be sealed upon the offender’s successful completion of drug court or intervention in lieu of conviction programs.
Finally, drug trafficking penalties are strengthened under Substitute Senate Bill 3. If the prosecution proves an individual had any intent to sell or distribute any amount of heroin, that person could face trafficking charges and convictions. The bill also maintains mandatory prison sentencing for high-level trafficking offenses.
Senate Bill 3 builds off of the work of the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Commission, which spent several years reviewing potential changes to Ohio’s criminal code and made substantial recommendations on sentencing reform. Many of those recommendations were included in the legislation. Senate Bill 3 also includes some provisions that mirror changes to federal law made in the First Step Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in 2018.
The criminal justice reforms achieved in Senate Bill 3 have received significant, bipartisan support from many state and national organizations including: Alliance for Safety and Justice, American Conservative Union, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Buckeye Institute, Freedom Works and Justice Action Network, among others.
Prosecutors in Ohio’s most populous county and city also provided their support to move Senate Bill 3 forward.
“I have been working with Chairman Eklund and President Obhof on our goal of drug sentencing reform ever since the defeat of Issue 1, and I’m pleased to see the Senate pass this legislation today,” said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien. “Senate Bill 3 recognizes that the penalty should match the crime, and that the law should punish drug traffickers more aggressively than those struggling with addiction. This bill is a necessary step towards addressing Ohio’s addiction crisis and getting low-level drug users the help they need.”