Ohio arsonist registry won't be made public

By Marc Kovac | R-C Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- State lawmakers agreed Wednesday to remove language from legislation creating a registry of convicted arsonists that would have made the new list open to public perusal.

A conference committee of the Ohio Senate and House agreed to the change, over the objections of two Democratic members, and Substitute Senate Bill 70 likely will be headed to Gov. John Kasich for his signature in coming days.

The legislation requires individuals convicted of arson offenses during the previous decade to register with county sheriff's offices.

Offenders would provide their full name or any aliases they use, address, details of their offenses and other information.

The Ohio House, through a floor amendment, voted to make the registry a public record, counter to the original version. That prompted opposition from the sponsor, Sen. Tim Schaffer, a Republican from Lancaster who has pushed the legislation for years.

"For the purposes right now of trying to get a law enforcement tool into fire investigators' hands so we can start preventing arsons today ... we need to get this thing moving," he said Wednesday.

Sen. Mike Skindell, a Democrat from Cleveland, urged that the list be made a public record.

"There are a lot of researchers and other individuals that would find use of this information beneficial," he said. "We are government, and as government it is presumed that the records created by government are public unless there's a compelling interest not to."

Schaffer said he would be willing to participate in discussions during the new session about public registries of different offenders, but he did not support adding a public record amendment to his arson registry bill.

The Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters supported the legislation, sans public records provision.

"We're just looking for a tool to get information into our fire investigators' hands, to law enforcement's hands, so we can start to search in the region where we might have repeat offenders of arson," said Mark Sanders, president of the group. He added, "Many times, [arsonists] are repeat offenders who have a disease, quite frankly. ... Mansfield has been ravaged. Toledo has been ravage. I just came from an arson fire overnight in Cincinnati. It's a problem."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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