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Ohio Legislators Consider Bill that Could Limit Right to Protest

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Ohio Legislators Consider Bill that Could Limit Right to ProtestPhoto via Wiki.
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Last week, the Ohio Senate held a committee hearing on a bill that opponents say could limit the right to protest.

Senate Bill 250, called “Protect critical infrastructure facilities from mischief,” would make it a more serious and expensive crime to trespass or cause property damage to oil and gas pipelines and other industry infrastructure.

Per the bill, the legal repercussions for criminal mischief at any critical infrastructure facility would go from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony.

“We are beginning to see how critical infrastructure provides essential energy, communications and other vital services and products to the entire state,” said Senator Hoagland, the bill’s sponsor, in a statement. “This legislation seeks to increase measures of protecting these facilities from wrongful acts that can cause serious harm.”

Civil rights activists criticize the legislation for its broad language prohibiting citizens from “impeding and inhibiting” the operation of these critical infrastructure facilities, which include any infrastructure related to electricity generation and transmission; oil and gas production, transportation and distribution; telecommunication; water supply; agricultural resources, production and distribution; heating; transportation systems; and security services.

Gary Daniels, Chief Lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Ohio, testified in opposition to the bill on Nov. 14.

“The point I make to them is that ‘impede’ and ‘inhibit’ are extremely broad terms that can be interpreted and read by anybody in incredibly expansive ways,” says Daniels.

He says workers at any of these critical infrastructure sites could lose their ability to strike, and civil protest against the operation of these sites would be severely infringed upon.

Jen Miller, Executive Director for the League of Women Voters (LWV) Ohio, says SB 250 follows the lead of a number of other bills across the country that seek to limit the right to protest. Anti-protest legislation is currently either in session or in law in 16 other states. Miller says they’re states’ preemptive response to protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, ND last year.

“By liberally expanding the definitions of criminal trespass, criminal mischief and critical infrastructure facilities, this law could greatly impede first amendment rights on workers striking at their workplace and other actions that cause no property damage whatsoever,” Miller says.

SB 250 has been amended since the hearing last Wednesday but still awaits committee approval. It’ll then head to a full vote by the Senate.

For more information, visit legislature.ohio.gov

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