DEFIANCE — Defiance County Prosecutor Morris J. Murray didn’t mince any words in describing Issue 1 during a press conference Friday on the steps of the Defiance County Courthouse.
“This is one of the worst, most dangerous criminal justice proposals that we’ve ever seen in our careers,” Murray said as dozens of judges, prosecutors, mayors, state representatives, law enforcement personnel and county commissioners from the five-county region joined him in what he called a “nonpartisan” show of unity against Issue 1.
Issue 1 is a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would implement a series of criminal justice reforms that backers say would save the state millions of dollars and reduce the state’s prison population by encouraging drug rehabilitation for low-level drug offenders.
But Murray said the proposal would result in higher costs for local officials, and remove the ability of judges, prosecutors and probation officials to use discretion in sentencing. Disturbingly, he said, the changes are not legislative but would be implemented into the state’s Constitution, which would be hard to undo.
Importantly, Murray said, rather than encouraging more drug treatment and rehabilitation, Issue 1 “guts” county drug courts by removing the incentive to go to treatment by eliminating the possibility of jail for the first two offenses. Plus, in most cases, the charges would be reduced to mere misdemeanors, he said.
“This isn’t going to fix the opioid crisis. It’s going to make it worse,” Murray said, adding that it also would retroactively reduce the sentences for thousands of serious offenders.
State Sen. Rob McColley, representing the 1st District, which includes Williams County, and State Rep. Craig Riedel, of the 81st House District, also spoke after Murray.
Riedel said he was concerned that backers of the issue were from outside Ohio. Supporters include an advocacy group associated with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg.
“Outside influences are trying to hijack (us). They want to impose their will on us. They want to impose on us how we should live,” Riedel said.
Williams County Prosecutor Katie Zartman, Bryan Mayor Carrie Schlade, Bryan City Prosecutor Rhonda Fisher, Williams County Sheriff Steve Towns, County Commissioner Lew Hilkert and Montpelier Police Chief Dan McGee were in attendance from Williams County. Other representatives in attendance were from Defiance, Henry, Fulton and Paulding counties.
Zartman said she was unequivocally opposed to Issue 1.
“I believe it would worsen the opioid crisis and result in more drug use and overdoses,” Zartman told The Bryan Times prior to Murray’s comments.
Williams County Common Pleas Judge JT Stelzer and Juvenile/Probate Court Judge Steven R. Bird, who did not attend, have already publicly expressed their opposition to Issue 1.
Other Issue 1 supporters include the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the Ohio Education Association, Ohio Justice & Policy Center and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray.
Opponents of Issue 1 include the Association of Municipal and County Court Judges of Ohio, Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, Ohio Association of Juvenile and Family Court Judge, Ohio State Bar Association and GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine.