By Jeremy Pelzer
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers are again introducing legislation to abolish the state’s death penalty – but this time, there’s growing confidence that the measure has the bipartisan support needed to become law.
“We know that the votes exist,” said state Sen. Niraj Antani, a Dayton-area Republican, during a Zoom news conference with supporters of the measure. “There are enough Republican votes to supplement the Democratic votes to get this done.”
Ohio House and Senate bills will be introduced “in the near future” that would replace all capital sentences with a sentence of life in prison without parole, said state Sen. Nickie Antonio, a Lakewood Democrat who’s been a leading anti-death-penalty advocate in the legislature.
“I think what’s new is instead of an individual from the Republican side of the aisle (sponsoring an anti-death penalty bill), you are hearing about a team,” Antonio said. “There is a team right now that is dedicated to ending the death penalty in Ohio. …And that team can only get larger.”
However, for any bill to pass the legislature, Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman and Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp would have to get behind it.
Huffman, a Lima Republican, told reporters Wednesday that he’s been a death-penalty supporter his entire legislative career. However, he said he gave the go-ahead to hold legislative hearings on an anti-death penalty bill “because I think it’s an important discussion.”
Ohio is one of 28 death-penalty states, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. However, executions have effectively been on hold in the state since 2018 because of ongoing problems getting pharmaceutical companies to sell lethal-injection drugs to the state. Gov. Mike DeWine, a Greene County Republican who no longer describes himself as a death-penalty supporter, has said he will refuse to allow any more executions to take place in the state unless the Ohio General Assembly picks an alternative to lethal injection.
Huffman said he doesn’t know how lawmakers would go about changing the state’s execution method. But he said that will be part of the discussion about the death penalty at the Ohio Statehouse.
“We shall see what kind of support is generated in the Ohio Senate,” he said.
In recent years, an increasing number of conservatives are turning against the death penalty for a variety of reasons, including religious grounds and concerns about the high taxpayer-funded expense of putting someone to death.
State Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Clermont County Republican, said when she served in the legislature 20 years ago, she was a death-penalty supporter. But Schmidt said she began to change her mind after meeting with Joe D’Ambrosio, a one-time Ohio death-row inmate who was found to be wrongfully convicted.
“It got me to thinking that we have to make sure that we never kill an innocent person,” Schmidt said, noting that nine Ohio inmates scheduled to die have been exonerated. “Life in prison without parole will be a hard punishment for those individuals that deserve it.”
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