Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Dayton Chamber Government Affairs Breakfast
Oct. 24, 2018

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Oct. 24, 2018, at the Marriott Hotel, University of Dayton.)

Thank you, Governor Taft, it’s always great to bring back the Taft-O’Connor ticket.

I want to thank this group for making a statement earlier this month ‒ when you came out against Issue 1.

Your public opposition is so important.  As thought leaders/employers/business leaders your stance is both meaningful and motivating, Only 13 more days until the election ... .

I’m happy to be here in Dayton, I’ve spent yesterday traveling from media outlet to media outlet, trying to get the word out on the FACTS of Issue 1.

I say FACTS, because there’s been a lot of misinformation out there from the proponents of this, and I’m afraid that it’s confusing Ohio voters when they go to the polls November 6.

There are less than two weeks until the election so I need your help to share the FACTS about what this constitutional amendment would do for the state of Ohio.

First, let’s step back and take a moment to consider how we got here.

There was a great article last week in the “Atlantic.” It analyzes the money in amount and source. It makes for fascinating reading. We know that billionaires like Mark Zuckerburg and his wife who live in Palo Alto, and by the way that’s in California not Ohio  have barely even stepped in Ohio, are pouring this money into our state. The same holds true for George Soros, The Tides Center based in California and doesn’t reveal its donors; And the Ford Foundation; and Facebook’s lesser known co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna ... also from California.

According to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis, Ohio donors have given just six percent of donations to the committee supporting the ballot measure. 94 percent from out-of-state donors ...

The article I cited asked a valid question ... who should decide issues in their state, the people who live there or people with financial means who use that wealth to socially engineer Ohio, our Courts, our treatment capacity, and ultimately Ohioans. 

While proponents will argue that Issue 1 was started from Ohio community organizers and faith leaders ‒ the “Atlantic” article says the measure got onto the ballot, thanks to the national Alliance for Safety and Justice.

This is the same alliance that spearheaded the passage of California’s Proposition 47, the result of which is that the San Diego drug court program is practically in mothballs due to lack of participants.

There is another piece of misinformation proponents are putting out that I want to address ‒ that what we are doing right now isn’t working. 

It IS working.

We now have 245 Specialized Dockets courts in 61 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

More than half of those are drug courts ….and nearly all the rest deal with drug issues borne by families, by veterans and by those with mental illness. We have four human trafficking courts as well.

These courts have a 70 percent success rate. 

They are saving lives. 

If Issue 1 passes, these courts are stripped of what makes them work.

What makes them key ... is that those addicted to drugs will NOT seek treatment, if there is no threat of jail time.

Without an incentive of jail, no one will choose to get drug treatment.

These drug courts are saving lives every day.

And it’s not just courts that are stepping up.

Our governor expanded Medicaid.

Ohio now spends 1 billion dollars in Medicaid expenditures which has made a huge difference in the fight against drug addiction.

The General Assembly enacted T-CAP .... Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison legislation. That allows for fifth degree felons to remain in their communities and receive supervision locally.  Funds are diverted from DRC to the local courts on a per capita basis.

We have many special programs in our state such as a multi-disciplinary Hope Partnership Project.

This is a program in Ross County designed to address the cycle of addiction for heroin and other addictive substances. The focus includes components of prevention and education, treatment, law enforcement, volunteer, faith-based and medical. 

Ohio is on the receiving end of $112 million dollars through federal grants from the Department of Justice through 2021 to expand treatment capacity.

Violence against Women’s Act, or VAWA, grants enable female victims of violent crimes to receive help. This is a 12 million dollar grant.

Besides the tall tale that we aren’t doing anything about this problem, I want to pass along another piece of misinformation.

Supporters have promised…that Issue 1 will direct $136 million dollars to drug treatment and crime victim programs by prohibiting jail or prison time for most low-level drug possession offenders.

There are no data to back up that promise.

In fact, there ARE solid data that reveal that this won’t happen.

Just last week, the state Office of Budget and Management came out with a report that analyzed Issue 1 from top to bottom---every page, every sentence.

This is a report that is mandated to come out on all ballot issues statewide.

Proponents say hundreds of millions of dollars a year will be carved out from the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections budget and funneled to the treatment community in Ohio.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

That’s not just my opinion.

This fiscal report lays it out.

The report reveals that the costs associated with Issue 1 will outweigh the meager money saved. That’s right, it will raise costs.

Issue 1 will raise costs on local government while failing to make savings at the state level.  Ultimately, costs will be shifted to local governments, the report reveals.

Proponents talk as if hordes of Ohioans are in jail for drug possession. The fact is that not many people are going to prison for Felony 4 and Felony 5 drug possession charges alone. Less than 15 percent of inmates are in prison for drug crimes, total… That’s all drug crimes, trafficking F-1 to possession 5.

There were only 662 people in an Ohio prison for F4 and F5 drug possession alone as of July 2018.  That number is so low because of programs such as T-CAP, which I spoke about earlier. These programs are in place to prevent low-level offenders from going to prison – and these programs are obviously working.

Finally, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction estimates that Issue 1 will only reduce the prison population by 900 prisoners over the next four years. For that small blip, we are considering gutting our drug courts, one of the most effective tools in combating the opioid crisis. 

Why do I say “gutting?”

If Issue 1 passes ‒ there will be NO incentive for those who are addicted to get treatment.

NONE.

Issue 1 sounds good. But it’s full of what I call false hope.

According to the US Department of Health, SAMHSA, 96% of people over the age of 12 with a substance abuse disorder believe that they don’t have a problem…how will they go to treatment if they don’t believe that they need treatment?  What incentive is there to make them complete the treatment? Certainly not voluntarily ....

The coroner in Butler County came out against Issue 1 — saying — these are her words, not mine — that the prisons will be empty but the morgues will be filled.

These are strong words. But as leaders in this community, you know how dangerous the situation is and how Issue 1 would make a bad situation worse.

Issue 1 allows for possession of just under 20 grams of fentanyl to be treated as a misdemeanor – an amount that could kill up to 10,000 people.

Keep in mind, two milligrams of fentanyl – that’s two one-thousandths of a gram – will kill you.

Issue 1 would put not only non-violent inmates back on the streets, but also every level of violent felon, except murder, rape, and child molestation.

It would ties the hands of judges to deal with probationers who violate no-contact orders with victims.

It would take away input from victims on inmate release.

The proponents compare substance abuse disorder, addiction, to other diseases ... We don’t put diabetics or those suffering from heart disease in jail, so why addicts?

At first you may think that’s an apt comparison ... but diabetics don’t steal or break into homes for insulin.  And the drugs prescribed for heart disease or diabetes is done to help prolong your life not kill you as heroin or fentanyl will.

Putting more of addicted people on the street, instead of helping them in a supervised program, will not make anyone safer, least of all the addict. 

Proponents of Issue 1 say any problems with Issue 1 can be fixed by statute.

That’s not how it works. This is a proposed constitutional amendment. It’s not a proposed statute.

You can’t roll this back. It would become a fixture in our state constitution, and a legislative road to fixing it wouldn’t exist.

It would take another constitutional amendment to amend or repeal this flawed proposal.

In closing, please vote NO on Issue 1.

If this passes, it would be a catastrophe for the state of Ohio.

It will be felt by Ohioans who lose family members

A son or a daughter, a sister or a brother to this.

Meanwhile, we will be faced with the disastrous results.

So let me finish with the question I first asked ...

Who should decide changing the constitution in Ohio ... rich folks from out of state or the people who live here?

I say it’s us.

Vote NO on Issue 1.

Thank you and God Bless.