LISBON - State Rep. Nick Barborak renewed his plea for passage of a bill that would again give judges the option of sentencing low-level drug offenders to prison, and he was again joined by David Pepper, the Democratic candidate for Ohio Attorney General.
Barborak and Pepper appeared together at a joint news event held Tuesday at the Columbiana County Democratic Party headquarters to promote Barborak's bill, which passed out of committee in March but has yet to be brought up for a full vote in the Ohio House.
Barborak and Pepper held a similar news conference two weeks ago in Columbus urging the state legislature to act, saying it would likely help the heroin problem in Ohio by sending more drug dealers to prison.
"You're guess is as good as mine" why the bill has languished since March, he said, adding the committee vote was unanimous, and it has Republican cosponsors. "I can't speculate on why the speaker (a Republican) has not called for a vote."
The bill restores sentencing discretion to judges when it comes to sentencing first-time offenders convicted of fourth- and fifth-degree drug offenses. A bill passed several years before stripped judges of that discretion by requiring those offenders be placed on probation and/or in treatment programs.
"Locally elected judges are in a much better position to make sentencing determinations than appointed bureaucrats in Columbus," he said.
Barborak said that passage of this bill could also help reduce the number of property and violent crimes commonly associated with the drugs by putting more dealers in prison, and the measure has the support of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement.
Pepper is baffled why his Republican opponent, Attorney General Mike DeWine, has remained silent on the heroin issue in general.
"I think this crisis deserves real leadership, whether it's directly enforcing the law, whether it's speaking out about the laws that make sense (such as Barborak's bill) or speaking out against cuts in treatment that will only make the problem worse. I would, as the head law enforcement officer in the state of Ohio not sit and watch these things happen," he said.
"We need a lot more treatment, a lot more prevention. We need a lot tougher enforcement, and as attorney general I would be pushing those things," Pepper added.
Pepper was asked about the recent revelation he paid nearly $10,000 in parking fines over the past 14 years after being ticketed more than 180 times, according to records reviewed by the Associated Press. Most of the tickets were accumulated between 2007 and 2009, when Pepper was a Hamilton County commissioner.
Pepper dismissed the matter, noting he paid the fines and this was just an attempt by his opponent's camp to deflect the spotlight from DeWine's practice of awarding state contracts to donors, one of whom just incorporated his business two days before bidding for the contract.
"I'd ask the citizens do you care more about corruption in office, which we're seeing in the attorney general's office ... or an issue like (parking fines)? It's the silly season, and these things come up," he said. "The voters in the end will decide what is important."