Cleveland kidnap victims could get money, other benefits from state

A proposal offering cash reparations and other benefits to three women abducted and imprisoned in a Cleveland man’s home for a decade cleared a divided House committee Wednesday with several changes.

The measure, which passed 14-3, would provide the women with annual cash relief payments for each of the years they were restrained but would now subtract other victim assistance awards they might be eligible to receive.

Ariel Castro pleaded guilty to kidnapping the women, then repeatedly raping and beating them. Castro was serving a life sentence when he was found hanged in prison last month. He was arrested after the women escaped May 6.

The tuition, fees and living expenses at an Ohio public college that were initially made available to the women through the bill would be administered through a special fund at Cleveland State University under changes accepted Wednesday.

And rather than making lifetime federal government medical assistance available to the kidnap victims, as initially proposed, the amended bill gives the governor the power to annually review and pay eligible expenses.

Voting against the bill were three Republicans on the House Health and Aging Committee, including state Rep. Matt Lynch of the Cleveland-area village of Chagrin Falls. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. John Barnes Jr., a Cleveland Democrat.

Lynch said the women’s cases tugged at his heartstrings, prompting him to donate to the Cleveland Courage Fund. That fund, which supports the women, has taken in more than $1.4 million since it was set up in May.

Lynch questioned whether the bill could drive away private contributions and possibly diminish the significance of the state’s violent crime victims’ compensation fund.

“I just don’t know how to evaluate one victim versus another,” Lynch said, suggesting he and his colleagues should perhaps let their passions cool before passing the bill into law.

“Today, we’re asking to take taxpayer funds and participate in what some would call an act of charity,” he said.

The bill’s next stop would be an Ohio House floor vote, which would send it on to the Ohio Senate.