Call your Ohio Statehouse Rep to Protect Free Speech and Oppose Sub SB 250

Ohio Sub SB 250 passed the Ohio Senate on Thursday and may be heard by the Ohio House early next week (Dec. 10). Please call your House Rep to oppose this unconstitutional suppression of basic First Amendment rights.

ACFAN’s previous post gives basic talking points. Here are some on the bill’s constitutional threats, drawn from a letter sent to the Ohio Senate President last week):

Sub SB 250 is vague, arbitrary, inconsistent with the Ohio Revised Code, unnecessary, and clearly unconstitutional. It violates due process by arbitrarily – with no definition- singling out certain infrastructure that it merely labels, with no justification or DEFINITION, “critical” and then deems undefined activities as impeding or obstruction of operations and makes them felony offenses. The bill thus violates due process. As Mr. Thomas Cartwright so pointedly and eloquently elucidated in his testimony delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee this month, the bill makes non-destructive action at some sites punishable with higher penalties (third degree felonies) than destructive behavior elsewhere (misdemeanors under Ohio law).

It thus targets people and even more so organizations deemed to support actions at these arbitrarily labeled sites for unfair extra punishment, a violation of due process, and is clearly intended to chill dissent, a fundamental violation of First Amendment rights. 

The specification of ten times higher penalties for “organizations” deemed to support covered activity (who clearly cannot control actions of people — including agent provocateurs) is clearly intended to intimidate, relying on this chilling effect that has been clearly ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in multiple decisions since the 1950s. 

Why aren’t hospitals critical infrastructure? And schools? Why is it only dirty fossil fuel corporate infrastructure that’s deemed critical? Because they’re obviously targets of first amendment protests due to their infliction of harm and the urgency, well understood by millions, if not by our current president, to avert climate disaster within the decade. The urgency and seriousness of climate catastrophe, outlined in last week’s federal 4th National Climate Assessment (whose first sentence reads: “Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.”), is well understood by the educated public, including judges, such that the NECESSITY defense has even been deemed acceptable in courtrooms even when there has been clear intent to obstruct operation of these sites.

But Sub SB 250 would not just penalize destructive activity but also single out for felonious charges the vague and over-broad intent to impede or obstruct activities at these arbitrarily selected and undefined sites, leaving citizens who are concerned about the livability of our planet to wonder whether their peaceful presence on a corporate site (which may have been imposed on the community against its will or even against the wishes of its elected officials) will result in felony convictions, jail, fines, and all the consequences in our society of a felony conviction.

I urge your judicious attention to justice, law, and the fundamental constitutional rights of Ohio citizens in your consideration of this bill, whose passage would make Ohio complicit in the horrifying fascism being promoted by our president, with its explicit and intentional stifling of dissent through brute government suppression of basic constitutional rights.

Notes: This bill is based on a Koch brothers-funded ALEC-generated model. The American Legislative Exchange Council, of which the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Hoagland, is a member, is a right-wing group that generates legislation, which it then pushes in state and federal legislative bodies through members like Hoagland and other Ohio Senate and House Republicans. A bill similar to SB 250 has already been used to bring felony charges against protestors in Louisiana who were on private property with permission by the property owner to be there. They were protesting construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline.

See resource page for the current bill’s language and testimony on SB 250.