In 1963, United States Supreme Court decided in Gideon v. Wainwright that defending the indigent is a state responsibility. Following that decision, Ohio decided to require counties to share the cost of this service 50-50. Historically, the state reimbursement portion dipped as low as 26% and counties began to bear more and more of the financial cost.
In 2019, Governor DeWine and the General Assembly made an historic and significant commitment to funding for indigent defense. Governor DeWine included an additional $60 million in the Executive Version of House Bill 166, the state budget bill. The legislature added an additional $35 million in state fiscal year 2021 for reimbursement and removed the statutory maximum reimbursement rate of 50%. The projected reimbursement rate for state fiscal year 2021 was 90%.
As with many things in 2020, the anticipated reimbursement rate for counties was impacted by budget restrictions that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. The unfortunate need to reduce state General Revenue Fund (GRF) expenditures due to the pandemic has since decreased the projected reimbursement rate for state fiscal year 2021 to 74%.
Full funding for indigent defense reimbursement is CCAO’s number one budget priority this budget cycle. Gov. DeWine’s version of the budget, House Bill 110, included $125 million for county reimbursement of indigent defense costs. The Ohio Public Defender estimates that, to reach 100% reimbursement, an additional $8.3 million in state fiscal year 2022 and $12.3 million in state fiscal year 2023 is needed.
CCAO views the state’s assumption of full financial responsibility for indigent defense as a critical element of a stronger state-county partnership. Now is the time to eliminate the state-mandated financial burden from counties.