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Politics

Ohio House Approves Legislation Aimed At Protest Behavior

Protesters on the sidewalk of the Ohio Statehouse face Columbus Police officers, who stood in the middle of High Street, on June 1, 2020.
Paige Pfleger
/
WOSU
Protesters on the sidewalk of the Ohio Statehouse face Columbus Police officers, who stood in the middle of High Street, on June 1, 2020.

The Ohio House has approved legislation increasing penalties associated with behavior at protests. The bill is one of four General Assembly proposals introduced following last year's protests over racial injustice and police brutality.

The measure passed Friday expands the definition of obstructing justice in Ohio to include failure to follow a lawful order or diverting a law enforcement officer’s attention.

Sponsors said it will protect police officers and protestors, but opponents argue it could create more problems between those groups and even endanger people.

Sponsoring Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) said the bill doesn’t infringe on protestors’ First Amendment rights or restrict bystanders from recording video or audio of an officer on the job. But he said it requires them to give officers space and to not do things to distract them.

“This bill is not an anti-peaceful protest bill.  The key word is peaceful," Wilkin said.

But Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) said last year, now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was seen responding to people recording video and calling on him to take his knee off George Floyd’s neck.

"It seems plain to me that this statute would criminalize the actions of those bystanders, bystanders who were trying to save the life of George Floyd," Leland said.

Leland also noted the bill bans protestors from throwing flowers, glitter or water on police officers.

An analysis by the Legislative Service Commission, which does research for state lawmakers, noted that the bill "largely addresses conduct prohibited under current law." It also could potentially increase court costs for processing additional cases, but it could also mean additional revenue for courts in fines.

The bill passed on a mostly party line vote on the day Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years for Floyd’s murder.

The bill goes next to the Ohio Senate, where similar legislation is being considered. Opponents, including the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, call it an effort to discourage free speech and the right to protest.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.