New Ohio anti-protest bill, SB 33, facing passage – act now!

Updated 4-20-19: Another hearing on Ohio Senate Bill 33, the anti-protest, anti-First Amendment, free-speech-chilling bill will be held on Wed., April 24 at 9:15 a.m. at which only twelve opponents will be allowed to present oral testimony! Both written testimony and oral testimony are due by TUESDAY, April 23, at 9:15 a.m.

Send testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee chair John Eklund (eklund@ohiosenate.gov, include information from witness form).  State that you oppose this dangerous and unnecessary, redundant legislation and are outraged that opponent testimony is being limited, never the case for proponent testimony.

If you can go to the hearing (whether you provide oral testimony or not), write acfanohio [AT] gmail.com to arrange possible carpooling from Athens.

The bill singles out protests at oil and gas infrastructure, among other specified places, for felony charges for criminal mischief and other activities that are normally considered misdemeanors (as specified in the bill). It makes non-violent trespassing on oil and gas infrastructure subject to much greater punishment than actions elsewhere that even risk harm to people!  (see punishments for 2911.211. (A)(1)  vs. (A)(2) below:

From the bill: “Sec. 2909.07. (A)(7) Without privilege to do so, knowingly destroy or improperly tamper with a critical infrastructure facility ….(4) Criminal mischief committed in violation of division (A)(7) of this section is a felony of the third degree .

“…Notwithstanding section 2929.31 of the Revised Code, any organization found guilty of complicity in a violation of that division under section 2923.03 of the Revised Code shall be punished with a fine that is ten times the maximum fine that can be imposed on an individual for a felony of the third degree .

“…Sec. 2911.211. (A)(1) No person shall enter or remain on the land or premises of another with purpose to commit on that land or those premises a misdemeanor, the elements of which involve causing physical harm to another person or causing another person to believe that the offender will cause physical harm to him that person.

A (2): No person shall enter or remain o n a critical infrastructure facility with purpose to destroy or tamper with the facility . (B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of aggravated trespass,. Aggravated trespass in violation of division (A)(1) of this section is a misdemeanor of the first degree. Aggravated trespass in violation of division (A)(2) of this section is a felony of the third degree.”

If this (pictured) is “tampering,” it will mean activists practicing such nonviolent direct action to expose the high crimes of the oil industry will be subject to draconian fines and felony charges, and organizations deemed to promote the activity will be subject to ten times the fines leveled against individuals, even though the organizations likely have no control over the actions of individuals.

Ohio Senate Bill 33 (similar to Ohio SB 250, which passed the Senate last session but was not then considered by the Ohio House) is a dangerous assault on civil liberties and free speech. It is unnecessary, since trespass is already covered by Ohio law. The legislation is clearly meant to intimidate individuals and, even more dangerously, non-profit organizations that organize people to speak out against assaults by the oil and gas industry against our communities, climate, and public health. Under the bill, organizations can be held liable for others’ actions through guilt by association, with ten times greater penalties than penalties individuals would receive. This can only be intended to squelch environmental advocacy, so essential at this time of accelerating climate chaos.

SB 33 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.” 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 often embedded in protests by industry or the government — 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. 

As Inside Climate News recently reported, “‘Even where these bills are simply introduced, even if they do not move, even if they do not become law, they have potential to chill free speech and curtail activism,’ said Maggie Ellinger-Locke, a staff attorney with Greenpeace. ‘We’re hearing from people on the frontlines of activism in these states that these bills frighten them.'”

Legislation here: ohiosenate.gov/legislation/GA133-SB-33See Senate Judiciary Committee website or Buckeye Environmental Network’s resource page for testimony given previously on SB 33 and SB 250 (last session’s version).

Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee members:

Senator Position District Phone Email
EKLUND, John Chair  (REP) 18th Dist 614-644-7718 eklund@ohiosenate.gov
MANNING, Nathan H. Vice Chair (REP) 13th Dist 614-644-7613 manning@ohiosenate.gov
THOMAS, Cecil Ranking Minority Dem 9th Dist  614-466-5980 thomas@ohiosenate.gov
COLEY II, William P. REP  4th Dist 614-466-8072 coley@ohiosenate.gov
FEDOR, Teresa   . Dem 11th Dist 614-466-5204 fedor@ohiosenate.gov
Gavarone, Theresa REP  2nd Dist 614-466-8060 gavarone@ohiosenate.gov
HUFFMAN, Matt REP 12th Dist 614-466-7584 huffman@ohiosenate.gov
LEHNER, Peggy REP 6th Dist 614-466-4538 lehner@ohiosenate.gov
MCCOLLEY, Rob REP 1st Dist 614-466-8150 mccolley@ohiosenate.gov
O’BRIEN, Sean Dem 32nd Dist 614-466-7182 obrien@ohiosenate.gov

Sample letter. Please PERSONALIZE. Personal letters carry a lot more weight than copy and paste letters. Thanks.

Dear Senator Eklund,

Please oppose Senate Bill 33, an anti-democratic and redundant bill designed to protect the assets of fossil fuel industries, while intimidating and bankrupting conscientious objectors and their supporters.

Laws already exist to charge those who make the hard choice to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience in our communities.  Industries have the right and the means to protect their property, and citizens have the right to protest industrial activity that we believe is harmful or immoral.  Industries have profits to protect, and citizens have health and safety to preserve, for ourselves and our children.  When these two objectives clash, we have a court system to help determine which objective takes priority.

 SB 33 is an unnecessary bill that unfairly targets those rightfully alarmed young citizens who will suffer the most from climate impacts caused by the fossil fuel industry’s decades of denial.  Thank you for opposing Senate Bill 33.

Sincerely, Christine Hughes, Athens

DON’T be fooled by lies coming from Sen. Hoagland’s office. (Bill sponsor, Sen. Hoagland is a member of the rightwing American Legislative Council, which is sponsoring similar bills around the country as discussed in the Inside Climate News piece and elsewhere.) The bill does NOT state that only organizations that “PAY people to protest,” as claimed by Hoagland’s aide, are subject to the draconian fines!! (What real environmental organization pays protestors? NONE!) The bill will penalize organizations deemed to promote actions covered by this bill, even though an organization has no control over what individuals do. These and other lies are intended to obfuscate, silence dissent, and enable an industry-supported bill that will give a free pass to fossil fuel companies to continue wreaking havoc with our communities and our planet. Stop SB 33 now!

Why aren’t hospitals considered ‘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 hundreds of millions of people, to avert climate disaster within the decade. The urgency and seriousness of climate catastrophe, outlined the most recent 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 now been used successfully* in courtrooms, even when there has been clear intent to obstruct operation of these sites.

* Note that although this news coverage questions whether the necessity defense was granted, a separate legal analysis (see entry #10 on the Mass. case) notes “At the civil infraction hearing, the judge found all defendants not responsible and acceded to a defense request to note that the ruling was by reason of necessity.” Yes!!

And for some perspective on this bill in relation to ALEC and the larger assault against the climate movement and on strategies used to counter the corporate-government assaults, see the excellent overview by the National Lawyers’ Guild (3/14/19): The Attack on Climate Justice Movements.

Check Judiciary Committee’s website each Friday (late afternoon) or write to acfanohio [at] gmail.com to be notified of future hearings and  opportunities to submit formal testimony. There’s always very little notice from the Senate committee chair, so preparing testimony ahead is highly advised.