DAYTON —The Ohio Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed legislation expanding access to the state’s victim compensation program.
The issue came to the fore when the Dayton Daily News reported last year that victims of the 2019 Oregon District mass shooting were denied aid for reasons such as felony convictions years before the shooting or having drugs in their system when they were shot.
Bill sponsor state Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, said in floor speech before the vote that just last week he spoke to a constituent in Preble County whose daughter was kidnapped, murdered and drugged.
“On autopsy she was positive for illicit drugs in her system given to her by her captor,” Huffman said. “The mother was not eligible at all for any compensation for her mental breakdown and everything related to that and her funeral expenses.”
“This bill is going to right these wrongs,” he said.
Senate Bill 36 now goes to the Ohio House for a vote. A similar bill passed the Ohio Senate last year but didn’t get through the House before the end of the last General Assembly session in December, starting the legislative process over again.
Ohio’s victims compensation program provides financial assistance to victims of violent crime to pay for things such as medical and funeral expenses. It is funded mostly by drivers license reinstatement fees and court costs paid by people accused of crimes.
Current program rules disqualify crime victims from getting help if they were convicted — or in some cases merely suspected — of a felony in the past 10 years. SB 36 would reduce that to five years.
The bill would also eliminate the rule disqualifying victims from aid if they were in possession of drugs when they were victimized. And it expands the definition of a victim to include family members who witnessed a crime or arrived at a crime scene in the immediate aftermath, as well as caretakers of a dependent victim of sexual assault.
The proposed changes have faced no opposition. No one submitted opponent testimony in hearings on SB 36 before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In committee testimony this week, those supporting the bill included the Office of the Ohio Public Defender and the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.
Niki Clum, legislative liaison for the public defender’s office, said in submitted testimony that not giving aid to crime victims creates a “cycle of violence,” with research showing violent offenders often experienced and witnessed violence and abuse, particularly as children.
Roughly 2 million Ohioans, 17% of the population, have a felony or misdemeanor conviction that could make them ineligible for assistance if they or a family member become crime victims, she said.
“Just because someone has committed an offense in the past five or 10 years, or because someone may have drugs in their system when they are raped or killed, does not make that person a ‘bad victim,’” Clum’s testimony said. “It does not make their life any less precious.”
Clum cited previous Dayton Daily News reporting that in recent years the victims compensation fund has ended the year with a multimillion dollar surplus while denying thousands of claims because of strict program rules.
Jeff Dillon, Ohio legislative director for Americans for Prosperity, called the reduction from a 10-year ban to a five-year ban on eligibility for aid “a step forward.”
“Unexpected, undeserved financial strain born out of another person’s criminal conduct is indeed an economic barrier, and broadening access to aid for those who truly need and deserve it in these situations is absolutely a role that state government should be playing,” Dillon said in submitted testimony.