The stated purpose of House Bill 22 is to expand the offense of obstructing justice to include “diverting a law enforcement officer’s attention.” HB 22 would make the exercise of free speech and the right to assemble a felony if a police officer becomes “distracted” by yelling, chanting, or even throwing confetti.
Ohio already has extensive laws protecting law enforcement officers and ensuring their safety. Restricting the right to peacefully protest in Ohio is unneeded, unwanted, and would dangerously silence the voices of constituents in this state.
Peaceful protests throughout history have successfully drawn the attention of officers and the public to bring about meaningful change for the good of the community. Women’s suffrage parades, civil rights sit-ins, clean water public witness events, the climate marches, and protests against the killing of George Floyd and are all powerful examples of the crucial importance of Ohioans using their voices and gaining the attention of elected officials, the community, and law enforcement officials to guide the establishment of fair, just laws in our state.
House Bill 109 also attempts to restrict the right to publicly voice concerns in a meaningful way. Ohio law needs to protect Ohioans, not suppress and threaten them.
The Ohio Revised Code currently prohibits disorderly conduct, violent or threatening behavior, offensive or coarse utterances, as well as insulting or taunting someone in a way that is likely to provoke a violent response. People who engage in these actions can be charged with criminal behavior under ORC right now. We do not need to expand these penalties – the ORC outlines the law clearly as it stands. The creation of new offenses like “riot vandalism” and “riot assault” add a layer of intimidation that is unacceptable in a democratic society. Increasing penalties for public protest will silence Ohioans who are willing to stand up and defend the well-being of their community.
The First Amendment guarantees the right of the people to assemble, to exercise free speech, and to petition the government for redress of grievances. HB109 would impose dangerous restrictions on First Amendment rights in Ohio.
For example, church members that supply signs for a rally or make phone calls to let people know about a peaceful protest could be charged with “corruption” or sued by a police officer if the officer determines that he or she has “suffered loss” as a result of the rally.
Under the restrictions proposed by HB109, four friends who gather to exercise their civil rights and raise awareness of health concerns due to industrial waste could be charged with felonies if anyone in the vicinity is declared “threatening” by law enforcement officers. This is unacceptable.
Cases of police brutality are mounting across the country. Police officers are being found culpable for misuse of authority. Everywhere there is a rising call for accountability and new policies to reign in misconduct on the part of police officers whose behavior too often leads to violence. Right now Ohio needs to defend the rights of peaceful protesters who are willing to use their voices to affect needed reforms in our communities. Police officers are already protected by law. Ohio needs to stand up for our citizens and ensure they are protected as well. HB109 is the opposite of what is called for right now.
As Ohio voters, we all need to stand against these proposed restrictions to our First Amendment right to speak freely and the right of the people to peaceably assemble for a redress of grievances.
Contact your legislators and the House Criminal Justice Committee to express your opposition to House Bill 22 and House Bill 109.