Two former coroners have sponsored a bill to make the coroner system more efficient and responsive, State Representative and Scioto County native, Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) and State Representative Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) applauded last week’s House passage of legislation they joint sponsored that updates county coroner laws in the state of Ohio through the modification of various provisions.
House Bill 240 implements various changes to the Ohio Revised Code in reference to county coroners including. One part of the bill Clarifies various technical definitions such as defining the term “legal residence” as a permanent place of abode used or occupied as living quarters at the time of a person’s death and also expanding the definition of “coroner” to include a charter county medical examiner.
“This was done because of people who live in nursing homes,” Scioto County Coroner Dr. Darren Adams told the Daily Times. “Townships aren’t wanting to pay for burial fees. That’s why they’re (legislature) trying to get that figured out. So if that’s going to be their long-term residence, that is actually their legal residence. So if they die and they’re indigent, the township has to pay for the burial. We’ve had trouble with that in the past where townships don’t want to pay for that. They (townships) have always been responsible, but for people in nursing homes, that has always been a gray area. They’re just trying to make the legalese right so they can try to enforce that.”
Adams also explained the difference between the coroner and the medical examiner, as it is described in the new legislation.
“The difference is in some counties, that the medical examiner is appointed. They have a different style of government, Adams said. “Cuyahoga is the main one, the other one I think is Stark County. So they put in some legislation stating that medical examiner and coroner will be equivalent. That way when you’re reading the Revised Code, they’re interchangeable.”
Another part of the bill says that if a county coroner resigns or passes away, and no one runs or is appointed to fill the open vacancy, a county can contract with another county’s coroner to assume that role.
“If there’s a county that doesn’t have a coroner and you need to fill that position, this legislation is going to give them the opportunity to contract with a coroner from another county,” Adams said.
A segment of the legislation, for charter counties only, eliminates the requirement that a coroner has to have practiced for at least two years in the state of Ohio to be eligible to serve as coroner.
It also allows for the hiring of law enforcement officers and firefighters as coroner investigators as long as they are not working at that time as a law enforcement officer or firefighter.
“You can hire them and they have to be paid two separate salaries,” Adams said. “They’ve done it before. They’re just trying to clear up the Revised Code so that it reads cleaner and makes it easier for us to do our job.”
Adams said right now the Scioto County Coroner’s Office budget is such that there are no funds available to hire a full-time investigator, but he has a good working relationship with the various law enforcement agencies, and officers from the agencies are currently performing that work well.
Other highlights include ensuring that if a firearm is needed as evidence in a case, the coroner will deliver the firearm to the police chief of the municipal corporation where the body was found or to the county sheriff if it is not found in a municipal corporation.
Law enforcement must return the firearm to the next of kin if requested when the firearm is no longer needed as evidence, and specifying that if an autopsy is performed on an inmate in a state correctional facility, it will be paid for by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections or the Ohio Department of Youth Services.
“I’m happy to partner with Dr. Huffman on this bill,” Johnson said. “As two former county coroners (Johnson and Huffman), we have been in a unique position to understand the needs of this vital service that county coroner’s play for Ohio citizens. I’m particularly happy to help modernize and streamline the office in a way that preserves the crucial coroner functions that Ohioans have come to count on.”
House Bill 240 is currently in the hands of the Senate for further consideration.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.