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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Former Cincinnati Police Officer Supports Anti-Violence Bill Running Through Ohio Legislature

Click to enlarge People Sign During A Protest In Cincinnati In 2020 - Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Photo: Hailey Bollinger

People sign during a protest in Cincinnati in 2020.

A bill currently making its way through the Ohio legislature could increase penalties for people arrested while protesting in the state.

Ohio House Bill 109 would create three new felony charges of “riot assault,” “riot vandalism” and “bias-induced intimidation.” These charges are a fifth-degree felony, and can be extended to a third-degree felony if the law enforcement officer is hurt as a result of the alleged assault.

The first two charges will intensify the punishment for offenses such as rioting and disorderly conduct. “Bias prompted by intimidation,” a new allegation, would make harm to a person or their property a felony because of their status as a first responder.

The law is one of several bills written as a response to protests that took place during the summer of 2020. It has received significant partisan support from Republican state representatives from Ohio after being introduced by primary sponsor Representatives Sarah Carruthers (R-Hamilton) and Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) in Feb.

“As a former Cincinnati police officer, this bill hits close to home,” Representative Abrams said via email. In 2001, he served as a member of a 15-officer response team that responded to civil unrest.

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“The violent actions of some bad actors put everyone at risk – peaceful protesters, community members and law enforcement,” Abrams wrote. “HB 109 ensures that individuals who try to harm others during these mass gatherings are held accountable.”

Opponents of the bill argue that it threatens the First Amendment rights of Ohioans. Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the ACLU of Ohio, says organizations planning or promoting protests and demonstrations may be at risk.

If violence erupts at any level during a protest, the organization that promoted or planned the event may be in violation of HB 109 and Ohio’s corrupt activities laws, which define “racketeering activity” as conduct. involves engagement or effort.

“In the years I’ve been doing this job, I’ve never seen a bill so bad regarding free speech rights,” Daniels said.

Ohio is currently in the second year of its two-year legislative session, which ends in December 2022. House Bill 109 passed in Ohio’s House of Representatives and is awaiting a Senate decision. If the Senate approves the bill, it will go to the government’s Mike Devine for signature or veto.

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The legislature will be adjourned for a recess during early June and will be reconvened in November.

“I am working with my colleagues in the Ohio Senate and aisle to get this bill passed and I expect HB 109 to be signed into law by the end of the year,” Abrams said via email.

Ohio defines a riot as a group of four or more people who collect and violate disorderly conduct codes, who intend to commit a misdemeanor or prevent a public official from doing his job.

Organizations like the ACLU of Ohio are concerned about what the passage of HB 109 will mean for future protests and the right for Ohioans to assemble for causes they care about.

“I think the result for a lot of people is that they’ll just stop speaking, stop participating, stop planning, stop performing,” Daniels said.

This story was originally published by Public News Service and is republished here with permission.

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