Budget bill provision raising eyebrows

DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Ohio lawmakers are under deadline to pass the state budget by July 1, as mandated by state law. But a provision inserted into the budget bill is raising some eyebrows.

The provision would allow many more released inmates to sue the state for compensation.

It is hard to argue that people who spent decades in prison for crimes they didn't commit deserve to be paid -- Wiley Bridgeman, Eugene Johnson, Clarence Elkins, and the record breaker Ricky Jackson who spent 39 years locked up.

Ohio codified payments in 1986, but in 2003, payments were expanded to cases where minor procedural errors could qualify a prisoner for an appeal and payment if released.

With House Bill 49, the budget adds another prong. It's a prong leading in the wrong direction, according to Assistant County Prosecutor Brian Gutkoski.

No other state in the union has a prong that is so expansive that they said any time a case is overturned a man or woman would be entitled to relief on the taxpayers' dime. He uses an example of a prisoner finding a minor procedural error, who wins an appeal after decades in prison. If a new trial is ordered, even on a very minor issue, an inmate could cash in.

Sometimes when that happens, prosecutors don't have the evidence to go forward on a retrial.

For example, a key witness may have died, or an arresting officer. With no way to build the case, the prisoner couldn't be convicted again, and would get paid.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, also a candidate for governor, has written strong opposition to the proposal.

Mark Godsey of the Innocence Project has written in support.

Cleveland 19 has estimated -- conservatively -- that if these proposals go through, it would mean tens of millions of dollars, and $1 million to $2 million a year after that.

Copyright 2017 WOIO. All rights reserved.