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HB 81 (death penalty exemption for SMI) passes out of committee

On Wed., Dec. 5, members of the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee passed legislation, House Bill 81, out of committee by a vote of 9 to 3. This is the first step to passing legislation that would prevent individuals with severe mental illness, at the time of the crime, from receiving a death sentence.

House Bill 81 would exclude individuals with certain serious mental illnesses from the death penalty just as individuals with intellectual disabilities and juveniles are currently exempted. The legislation was a recommendation from the Ohio Supreme Court’s Joint Task Force to review the administration of the death penalty.

Specifically, the bill:

  • Gives protection for individuals with one of the five diagnoses: Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Delusional Disorder who at the time of the crime had diminished culpability;
  • Allows for conviction and legal responsibility;
  • Gives judges discretion during sentencing; and
  • Fixes flaws with capital trial mitigation phase.

Prior to the vote by committee members, Representative Bob Cupp (R-Lima), introduced an amendment to not allow the exemption to apply retroactively. The amendment was voted down and the bill was passed 9 to 3 (with Reps. Butler, Hughes and Pelanda voting in opposition).

OPPA member, Megan Testa, MD, who chairs the OPPA Government Relations Committee, has been instrumental in helping to educate members of the committee about severe mental illnesses and how this bill will fulfill the recommendation from the Ohio Supreme Court's Joint Task Force.

The bill must now pass the full house before moving to the Senate for a committee vote and vote by the full senate.

The bill has gotten recent media attention when, over the weekend, the Akron Beacon Journal published an editorial and The Cincinnati Enquirer published an article.


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