Gov. John Kasich gave the mother of murder victim Sierah Joughin an early Christmas gift Dec. 19 when he signed Ohio Senate Bill 231, or Sierah’s Law, into existence. The state senator who pushed hard for two years to get it enacted says, in terms of public protection, it was worth the fight.
The eponymous legislation, which goes into effect 90 days after receiving Kasich’s signature, will allow for the creation of a database that can geographically locate violent offenders living in Ohio. While only law enforcement will be privy to all of the information, the law does permit local sheriffs’ offices to provide much of it to concerned citizens.
Under Sierah’s Law, state residents can receive a violent offender’s name and aliases, their photo, a list of their criminal convictions, their home and work addresses, license plate numbers for their vehicles, the names of schools they attend, and their physical description including scars, tattoos, and distinguishing marks. Their driver’s license numbers and Social Security numbers will not be available to the public.
The law pertains only to those violent offenders convicted of aggravated murder, murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, and abduction. It also mandates those offenders to register their whereabouts with the local sheriff’s office annually for 10 years once they’re released from prison. Violent offenders visiting Ohio for three or more consecutive days must register with the nearest sheriff’s office.
Bill 231 made a final 24-3 pass through the state Senate on Dec. 6 to approve changes before being sent to Kasich’s desk. The bill was passed by the House one day earlier with a unanimous 85-0 vote.
It’s enaction comes two years after it was introduced by District 2 Senator Randy Gardner. He began the preliminary process on Oct. 16, 2016, just three months after the 20-year-old Metamora resident disappeared during an evening bicycle ride. Her body was found buried three days later.
Her convicted killer, James Worley of rural Delta, was convicted of her death March 27, and sentenced to death April 18. Worley sits on death row at Chillicothe Correction Institution.
Joughin’s mother, Sheila Vaculik said she was surprised to learn the governor had signed the bill after hearing he likely would wait until the new year. The signing last Wednesday was so unexpected she had not made plans to be in Columbus for it.
“I was extremely excited when I got the news,” she said. “Absolute joy and a sense of accomplishment for something that wasn’t easy.”
The law has been criticized as a possible obstacle for violent offenders trying to assimilate back into society. But Vaculik sees it as more of a benefit.
“We really don’t know until we try it,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t hinder anybody in their integration back into society. But we have to give it a chance – at least work with it. When law enforcement actually acknowledged that this is something they look forward to using, that’s makes you feel good.”
Had such a database been available at the time Joughin was kidnapped, “I feel that this could have helped us,” Vaculik said.
She praised Gardner for working tirelessly to move the bill into law. “It passed because Randy worked so meticulously with so many groups. He really did the hard work,” she said.
Gardner said on Friday Sierah’s Law went through 27 amendments over the course of 1 1/2 years. Some were directly requested by leaders of state coalitions specifically formed to assist felons’ reintegration into society, and who were initially against the law.
“We listened to people who had some of those concerns. Some are still not in favor of the law but they realize it’s more balanced now. We worked hard to listen to all concerns,” Gardner said.
He added, “I believe in reintegration into society. I believe in redemption. I think (the law’s) value is to return felons to honest, productive lives. Its saves taxpayer money and makes people safer.”
Often, though, reintegration isn’t achievable, he said. In those cases, the database of violent offenders Sierah’s Law will create will protect people.
“Today, if you ask a sheriff or chief of police where the convicted murderers are in a county, the answer is, they don’t know,” Gardner said. “The Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association is a strong supporter of the bill because they want this information. We’ve had people whose job it is to protect the public saying Sierah’s Law can be helpful to them.”
Supporters include Governor-elect Mike DeWine.
Gardner said while Sierah’s Law can provide preventative measures it won’t eliminate dangerous situations, abductions, and murders in Ohio. He said Vaculik and state help organizations still encourage women to take precautions and practice self-awareness.
“But this law is something that can be at least be part of the answer,” he said. “It took a lot of hard work and perseverance to get to the finish line.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.