Ohio Hearing on Proposed Anti-Protest Law Draws… Loud Protest

Demonstrators filled the halls near a hearing room in the Ohio statehouse Wednesday to make their opposition to a bill criminalizing protest that ultimately passed through the state House Public Utilities Committee and is now headed to the floor. 

“You aren’t the people’s government! You’re the oil and gas industry’s government!”
—Ohio demonstrator

The legislation, Senate Bill 33, institutes stiff penalties for demonstrations that cause damage to infrastructure—a standard that the bill’s opponents say is aimed at stopping protests against pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.

“It’s meant to intimidate us into not using our voice,” Rev. Marian E. Stewart of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus told the Columbus Dispatch on Wednesday.

As the Dispatch reported, the legislation is part of a pattern in states looking to curtail the right to protest fossil fuel infrastructure:

Ten states so far have enacted similar laws, starting in the wake of 2016’s protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota to which Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers were dispatched. It would make it a first-degree misdemeanor to “knowingly enter or remain on” pipeline rights of way even when they’re on public land or when protesters have property owners’ permission to be there.

It also would make it a third-degree felony to “knowingly destroy or improperly tamper with” a pipeline or other critical infrastructure. But its supporters in October wouldn’t define “tamper.”

Further, the bill would subject groups to which people committing such felonies belong to fines of up to $100,000 — an amount that could devastate nonprofit environmental groups and churches, the bill’s critics say.

Protesters in the hearing room voiced their disapproval.

“You aren’t the people’s government,” shouted one demonstrator. “You’re the oil and gas industry’s government!”

The demonstration continued outside of the hearing room.

The bill passed out of committee largely along party lines with Republicans in favor of the legislation.

Advocates hope to pressure the full state House to reject the bill. 

“We the people have the right to protest,” said one opponent of the bill. 

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