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Ohio Activists Rallying Against Bill To Criminalize Pipeline Protests

A truck passes a sign against the NEXUS pipeline on the property of Kathy Cikotte, in Berlin Heights, Ohio, on July 16, 2015.
Tony Dejak
/
Associated Press
A truck passes a sign against the NEXUS pipeline on the property of Kathy Cikotte, in Berlin Heights, Ohio, on July 16, 2015.

An advocacy group is opposing an Ohio bill that would restrict protests at sites that are considered "critical infrastructure facilities,” including oil and gas pipelines.

Organize Ohio hosted a meeting in Cleveland on Monday to discuss opposition to SB 33, which was passed by the Ohio Senate in May 2019.

The measure would criminalize protests occurring at places such as pipelines or utility poles. Backers say they aim to protect the facilities from serious harm.

But Jacie Jones of Organize Ohio believes the bill would have a "chilling effect" on free speech. She says that’s happened in other states where similar laws have passed, such as Louisiana and Texas.

"When they hear about this bill and the effects, they become scared to go out and protest different environmental issues or concerns because they don’t want to be charged with felonies and subjected to the fines and prison sentences that would entail,” Jones says.

NPR reported in September that a U.S. district judge blocked South Dakota’s law, saying it was unconstitutional, while protesters arrested under Louisiana’s law were never formally charged.

Jones says that the legislation was developed as a response to demonstrations like Standing Rock in North Dakota.