State leaders looking at victim compensation reforms after Dayton Daily News investigation

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, both said they are exploring changes to a state program designed to help victims of violent crimes after a Dayton Daily News investigation revealed that survivors of the Oregon District mass shooting last year were denied aid because of strict program rules.

Obhof said he will talk to state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, about her previous reform proposal and try to make changes to the program. Lehner in 2018 sponsored legislation to make the program more accessible. Gov. Mike DeWine, who was then Ohio attorney general, openly supported the bill but it never had a hearing.

“This tragedy has highlighted some of the flaws in the victims compensation fund,” Obhof said Monday. “We will be taking a look at it and will consider loosening the rules for eligibility.”

Yost, whose office administers the program, directed his staff over the weekend to do “a top to bottom review of the existing statute” within the next 45 days to produce recommendations for the General Assembly to make the program work better for victims.

“I didn’t like the outcome of the application of the rules,” Yost said in an interview Monday.

Yost said the review will look closely at allowing assistance for victims whose drug addiction or criminal history had nothing to do with them becoming victims of a crime. It will also explore whether state aid can be weighted to those who need it most.

ExploreOregon District shooting survivors, family denied state aid for crime victims

The Dayton Daily News last week revealed that 19 Oregon District shooting victims were denied assistance from the Ohio victims compensation program. Five were denied help because they had a felony conviction within 10 years before the mass shooting. That included the family of Derrick Fudge, who was killed in the shooting, and his family was denied help with burial costs because Fudge was convicted 8.5 years prior on a felony drug charge in Clark County.

“Not having had any conviction for 10 years strikes me as an unreasonable bar,” Yost said. “The goal of this program is restorative justice, and justice doesn’t just belong to people that have perfectly clean backgrounds.”

A woman who was shot in the leg in the Oregon District was denied aid because she had amphetamines in her system when she was shot. She provided receipts showing she takes prescribed Adderall, meaning she should qualify. But she and others criticize the program for rules denying help to victims of a violent crime who might be addicted to drugs.

A 2017 Dayton Daily News investigation found a woman who was the victim of sex trafficking was denied aid because drugs were found in her system when she was taken to the hospital for a rape kit. Victims can be denied aid if they are charged or even accused of a crime, even if they aren’t convicted. Having non-prescription drugs in the blood stream is considered drug possession by the program rules.

“Addiction should not be a bar to being compensated,” Yost said.

The third thing Yost ordered to be part of the review is whether there’s some way to objectively assess how big of an impact a crime had on a victim’s life and make sure help gets to those who need it most.

“Not all Ohioans are equally resourced, equally resilient. They don’t all have the same network and resources to be able to deal with being victimized,” he said.

ExploreStrict rules in Ohio program deny payouts to thousands of victims

The fund paid out $102,731 in assistance to 29 victims of the Oregon District shooting, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The program is funded with court costs and drivers license reinstatement fees paid by those accused of crimes. The Dayton Daily News found the program routinely denies more claims than it pays out.

Obhof noted that time is short to get a new bill through both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly because the two-year legislative session ends in December. Lehner is term-limited and leaves office after this year; both the Democrat and Republican vying for her seat also support changes to the program.

Lehner’s proposed legislation, Senate Bill 322, would have:

  • Expanded the definition of “victim” to include: victims’ family members, witnesses to a crime, someone who arrives at a crime scene in the immediate aftermath, and caretakers of a dependent victim of sexual assault. These people would be eligible for up to $15,000 for wages lost due to treatment and counseling.
  • Increased the maximum claim an immediate family member of a crime could receive to $5,000 for counseling.
  • Allowed someone with a criminal history to file a claim on behalf of a minor victim as a parent or guardian.
  • Reduced the look-back period for criminal disqualification from 10 years to five years.

“It’s unreasonable that the fund is denying compensation, for any reason, to the victims and the families of those who were killed in the Oregon District shootings,” said Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck in a statement Monday. “The program was designed to provide assistance to innocent victims of violent crime. If the mass shooting event in the Oregon District doesn’t fit that description, then I don’t know what does.”

“If necessary, the legislature needs to reform the program and make it more accessible,” Heck said.

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Our investigation revealed that victims of the Oregon District mass shooting were denied assistance from a program designed to help victims of violent crimes. Now state leaders are looking at changes. Your subscription makes this possible.