SIDNEY — The message came across loud and clear: Vote no on Issue 1.
More than 100 people attended a rally in opposition on the statewide initiative which will appear on Tuesday’s ballot. Shelby County officials hosted the event on the steps of the Shelby County Courthouse.
From commissioners, to judges to candidates for state office, all voiced their opposition to Issue 1.
Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann, who is also a pharmacist, said she was curious about Issue 1 when she first heard about it.
“I was dismayed at what I found out,” said Ehemann.
The issue, if approved, would become part of the Ohio Constitution and would reduce drug penalties and send fewer people to prison. It is also known as the Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment.
Shelby County residents, said Ehemann, wants safe neighborhoods.
“Drug addition is not easily tackled,” said Ehemann. “Don’t reduce the penalties for drug convictions.
“We all want Shelby County to grow and prosper,” she said. “We want programs and resources that work.”
Commissioner Tony Bornhorst told the crowd the commissioners had approved a resolution on Oct. 2 opposing Issue 1.
“Issue 1 represents points of contention which will have disastrous results for Shelby County residents and the state of Ohio.
“We strongly urge you to vote no on Issue 1,” said Bornhorst.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is on the campaign trail as the Republican candidate for Ohio governor, said he’s seeing a grassroots campaign among both Republicans and Democrats to defeat Issue 1.
“This issue is being funded by people who live outside the state of Ohio,” said DeWine. “Issue 1 sounds great but it will have the opposite impact in the state.
“Fentanyl is killing people everyday,” said DeWine. “Three-fourths of the overdoses in Ohio are due to fentanyl. If a person has under 20 grams of fentanyl, it’s no longer a felony … it’s a misdemeanor with no jail time.
“But those 20 grams of fentanyl can kill 10,000 people,” he said.
DeWine said if Issue 1 is approved, Ohio would be the only state in the area that will have reduced charges against drug dealers.
“Where do you think all the drug dealers are going to go?” he said. “Ohio will become a sanctuary state for drug dealers.”
Issue 1, he said, handcuffs the state’s judges on how a person can be sentenced. Also, a judge can’t revoke a person’s probation unless a separate or distinct crime is committed.
“Drug courts are saving lives every day,” said DeWine. “I talk to people and addicts on the road to recovery. They tell me they wouldn’t be alive today without it (drug courts).”
DeWine said he doesn’t want Issue 1 to become part of Ohio’s Constitution and the only way it could be changed in the future is by a vote of the people.
“Anyone in prison now could have their sentence reduced by one-fourth if they participate in the prison’s programs,” said DeWine. “We should not allow prisoners to say how much their sentence should be reduced.”
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Mary DeGenaro thanked Sidney City Schools which allowed 50 students in government classes to attend the rally.
“You’ve come here to see how free elections work,” said DeGenaro, who is seeking election to the Supreme Court of Ohio. She was appointed to the Supreme Court on Jan. 28, 2018. “You are seeing the freedom to assemble and gather before the people’s house (Shelby County Courthouse).”
DeGanaro said she was speaking for the voices of the judicial system. The state, she said, is a leader in drug enforcement in the nation. The state has a lower rate of recidivisn after a person has served their sentence.
Drug courts, she said, are hard work for the person trying to straighten out their lives. It can take one and two years, or even more, for the drug court to be successful for the addict.
“The addict has to embrace recovery,” said DeGanaro. “We have to help Ohioans reclaim their lives.
DeGanaro said it is a team effort among the judicial system, recovery system and the addict for the addict to turn their life around.
“We are committed to people who want to get their lives back,” she said. “Issue 1 will provide a negative impact in the state.
“These people (backing Issue 1) want to put it into the Ohio Constitution while they are living out of state. We must protect our fundamental rights,” said DeGanaro.
Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst read a list of organizations who are opposing Issue 1. He also recapped a recent editorial he wrote which was published in the Sidney Daily News.
“This legislation has no part of being part of the Ohio Constitution,” said Barhorst.
Sidney Municipal Court Judge Duane Goettemoeller said he sees drug offenders every day in his court.
“I struggle in court on how best to treat them to save their life,” he said.
Issue 1, he said, takes away a judge’s discretion on how to sentence the offender.
“Issue 1 is removing the threat of prison,” said Goettemoeller. “It’s giving prisoners an early release from prison. Vote no on Issue 1.
“It doesn’t make you an uncaring person if you vote no on Issue 1,” he said. “If treatment is the best course, that’s what we should use. If the person is not at the right point in their life (where they want treatment), then it will fail.
“Not every drug user should be sent to prison,” he said. “But they do have to hit rock bottom (before seeking help). Last year, I had two women thank me for their sentences. Vote no to help save lives.”
Mark McDaniel, executive director of the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services, said his organization doesn’t voice a political view on candidates or issues. However, he said, the board made an exception for Issue 1.
“In September we passed a position statement opposing Issue 1,” said McDaniel. “The issue is short in many areas, especially in the treatment/recovery aspect.”
McDaniel said there are many services available in Shelby County. The new STAR House by the Shelby County Jail will also assist people with the transition from jail and continue to receive treatment for their addiction.
“I like to call it personal recovery,” said McDaniel. “It’s a personal journey for each person.”
And Issue 1 will take away from those personal journeys, he said.
“I urge you to oppose Issue 1,” said McDaniel. “Let the judges and treatment officers do their jobs. We need to support them.”
Gary Carter, Shelby County Common Pleas Court magistrate, said the opioid crisis affects every court in Shelby County.
“I see it as a reason for divorce,” said Carter. “I see it as a reason for reduced visitation time with their children.
“Incarceration is a tool I use as magistrate,” he said. Issue 1 would take that option away from him and other judges.
“Let the judges and magistrates make the decision if a person should go to jail or not,” said Carter.
Shelby County United Way Executive Director Scott Barr said his agency also opposes Issue 1.
“Substance abuse directly impacts Shelby County families especially the children,” said Barr. “Issue 1 will directly have a negative affect on our agencies.”
He said the Shelby County Drug Task Force continues to monitor the drug abuse trends in the county.
“Our community leaders are collaborating to fight drug abuse,” he said.
Though he didn’t speak at the rally, Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Jeff Beigel said drug abuse also affects the juveniles he sees in his court.
“When addressing juveniles with addiction, behavioral and family problems, we need all option to be effective,” said Beigel. “Allowing a juvenile to continue to engage in serious drug abuse before a court can take effective action is now what is best for a child’s development.
“These decisions should be handled on a case by case basis,” he said. “An amendment to the Ohio Constitution is also ill-advised. It will be very difficult to make responsible changes to the law when necessary.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.