House Bills Create New 'Riot' Offenses, Expand Penalties In Protests
Ohio Republican lawmakers are pushing for two bills that would increase penalties for offenses that take place during demonstrations and protests. Opponents of the bills say this is an attempt to limit free speech.
A House bill, HB22, would expand obstruction of justice charges to include failing to follow a "lawful order" from police and attempting to distract law enforcement.
This can include inhibiting or restricting a law enforcement officer's control of a "subject or detainee," depriving an officer of control of a subject or detainee, or blocking an officer from that person.
Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro) said gave sponsor testimony before the House Criminal Justice Committee saying, "The events that have transpired over the course of these past several months have demonstrated a necessity to amend our state’s obstruction of justice law that will further protect law enforcement officers and members of the general public. Peaceful protests have turned violent when bad actors who are not involved in a police matter begin to taunt, harass, and overall interfere with law enforcement officers performing their duties."
Since the bill was introduced, lawmakers have approved some changes which includes removing language that would have made it possible to charge someone with obstruction of justice for taunting an officer.
Language was also added to ensure that bystanders can use their phones to record law enforcement.
Another bill, HB109, would create "riot assault" and "riot vandalism" offenses, with felony charges attached.
If someone causes physical harm to another person, when engaged in "aggravated riot" or "riot," that person could face "riot assault" charges. On its own, "riot assault" would be a fifth degree felony. If the person injured in the assault is a police officer, the charge could be a fourth degree felony which could be upped to a third degree felony if the police officer was seriously injured
Joe Mallory with the Cincinnati NAACP says there are already enough laws that handle such crimes.
"Citizens should always have the right to respectfully question and challenge actions that are excessive and abusive. Lawmakers must cease and desist attempts to strip away rights that are protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution," says Mallory.
More than 60 people offered opponent testimony against HB22.
"HB22 seeks to criminalize civil disobediences and limit first amendment free speech. It seeks to increase protections for law enforcement at the expense of the civil liberties of the very people law enforcement is meant to protect and serve. This bill is un-American and an injustice in every sense of the word," says Willa Sammons-Evans, A. Philip Randolph Institute Cleveland Chapter president.
Both bills remain the House Criminal Justice Committee.