“This new law will have a significant impact on helping victims and their families,” said state sponsor of the bill, Sen. Steve Huffman of R-Tipp City. âIt updates and clarifies the law to ensure that this essential help is available to those who need it most. “
Once the law comes into effect in March, victims will not be denied help because of their criminal history, unless they did something that contributed to the incident they were victim of. – being involved in a drug case gone wrong, for example.
Other changes include:
– Removal of the provision prohibiting a person in possession of drugs from obtaining assistance.
– Allow family members who are suffering from severe trauma to have witnessed the crime or to report immediately afterwards, and caregivers of children who are sexually assaulted, to obtain assistance.
– Declare family members of people killed in crimes as full victims, allowing them access to state aid, whether or not the deceased was involved in contributory misconduct.
Current law allows the state to deny assistance to victims if they have been charged with a crime, even if they have never been convicted, or if they had controlled substances in their system. This will no longer be the case.
The change “will bring clarity”
Huffman said the change “will bring clarity and a better process for victims of crime.”
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, whose office administers the program, said the reforms were needed to make the program fairer.
âIf you are a victim of a crime, it doesn’t matter what your background is,â he said. âSomeone who has been raped and who may have been convicted of a felony for drugs or bad checks, suffers exactly the same consequences and traumatic effects as anyone else. “
The Ohio Victims Compensation Program provides financial assistance to victims of violent crime to pay for expenses such as medical and funeral expenses, counseling, and lost income replacement. It is funded by state and federal fines such as driver’s license reinstatement fees and court fees paid by those accused of crimes.
A Dayton Daily News investigation in 2020 found the program provided assistance to 29 Oregon District shooting victims and families, but denied help to 19 – four of them due to their criminal backgrounds.
The program routinely denies more claims than it pays. In fiscal 2020, the attorney general’s office paid 1,987 claims – including 115 in Montgomery County – and denied 2,613, according to the most recent annual report. The average price was $ 2,882.
A 2017 Dayton Daily News article featured several victims who were denied help. They included a 17-year-old who was abducted and sexually assaulted at a motel in Moraine, but refused help because she had drugs in her system that her family says she was forced to take. . The mother of a 16-year-old from Kettering who was killed in a shooting was denied assistance with funeral costs because the boy appeared to be involved in drug trafficking.
Payments could increase by millions
An analysis from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission estimates that the changes will result in several hundred new eligible claims each year, and possibly thousands of immediate claims from victims who were previously ineligible.
The report states that the number of requests denied due to a criminal history was 460 in fiscal 2019 and 376 in fiscal 2020.
This means that changes from the SB 36 could cost millions of dollars.
The victims’ compensation fund has fluctuated in recent years and ended the previous fiscal year with a balance of $ 9.5 million, more than $ 2 million more than the previous year, according to the analysis of the LSC.
Yost said recent federal changes should help maintain the fund’s creditworthiness.
âI expect that next year, around this time, we will start to see this fund grow again, and hopefully we will have the dollars to cover that,â he said. âIf we don’t, we can make a decision about it then. “
At the request of Yost’s office, lawmakers added a provision saying they will not pay someone for assistance while incarcerated.
They also added a three-year statute of limitations for seeking help, although victims who were under 21 at the time of the incident were up to 24. And the GA office can make other exceptions for “good cause”.
Victims and family members of Oregon District shooting victims will be able to reapply for help.
SB 36 passed both chambers with bipartisan votes and encountered no vocal opposition.
Lawyer Mike Falleur has helped people with victims’ compensation claims for decades. He said the current strict rules were an excessive correction after Cleveland gangsters began accessing the fund in the 1970s.
Falleur advocated maintaining the criminal prohibition for the most serious crimes and extending the limitation period for minors who are victims of sexual crimes. But overall, he said the reforms were long overdue.
“These are changes that are needed,” he said.
Stephen Massey, director of the CitiLookout Trauma Recovery Center in Springfield, testified in favor of the bill and said in a statement when passed to the General Assembly that it “will prevent re-victimization and remove obstacles in the way. of healing “.