State Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, has taken the first step in trying to pass “Jake’s Law,” his reform bill offered in the wake of the death of Jacob Limberios.
But plenty of work remains in Redfern’s efforts to tighten up suicide investigations. The chairman of the committee hearing Redfern’s House Bill 482, state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, hasn’t yet committed to allowing a vote on the measure.
The bill, introduced March 18, would require an autopsy in all cases in which the death appears to be a suicide, and also require the coroner or his deputy to go to the scene and take charge of the body when a death appears to be a suicide. It would also require newly elected or appointed coroners to take one hour of continuing education on suicide investigations.
The measure was assigned to the House Health and Aging Committee. Wachtmann is chairman of the committee, which deals with laws affecting coroners.
Limberios, 19, died March 2, 2012, of a gunshot wound. While it was ruled the gunshot was self-inflicted, his death and Sandusky County’s investigation of it remain a matter of public controversy. Critics have noted the coroner never showed up at the scene, and an immediate autopsy was never conducted.
Redfern, a veteran lawmaker who represents Erie and Ottawa counties, gave sponsor testimony on the bill Wednesday morning to the Health and Aging Committee.
Because some of Redfern’s colleagues come to the Port Clinton-Sandusky area to fish or otherwise enjoy the area, Redfern said he mentioned some of them may have seen the “Justice for Jake” signs on local roads and explained the local controversy.
Sponsor testimony on a bill typically is followed up by testimony from the bill’s supporters and opponents, Redfern said.
The chairman of a committee decides whether the panel will vote on a bill, deciding whether to send it to the House floor. Wachtmann said Friday he hasn’t made up his mind yet whether to call a vote on Redfern’s bill, but he said he agrees the issues Redfern has raised merit discussion.
“I’ve really got to learn more about the issue” Wachtmann said.
He said he’ll speak to the state coroners association and also wants to speak to law enforcement officers to see if officers need better training on suicide investigations, too.
Redfern said he’ll meet with state coroners, and he’ll also seek to speed passage of the lesscontroversial portion of the bill, the requirement for better education of coroners, by attaching it to another bill.
The requirement for an autopsy in all apparent suicides will be the toughest part of the bill to pass, as it’s a state mandate that will cost local governments money, Redfern said.
“At a time when Gov. (John) Kasich is slashing local government funds, I’m especially sensitive to that criticism,” said Redfern, who also mentioned his experience in local government as a county commissioner in Ottawa County.
He said there are about 1,300 suicides statewide every year, with about 900 going to autopsy. Each autopsy costs a county about $2,000.
But Redfern argues the cost is worth it. When a suicide case is mishandled, it makes a tragedy even more difficult for families to bear, he said.