Legislature passes SB 33, Governor must now decide

“SB 33 is part of a wave of legislation to crush demonstrations against new oil and gas infrastructure, writes the Rev. Brandi Slaughter, JD, public policy associate for the Ohio Council of Churches. “SB 33 escalates criminal charges on fossil fuel protesters and threatens religious organizations or nonprofits that support such demonstrations with crushing fines.”  Sites that the law would  classify  as “critical infrastructure” include fracking wells, pipelines, and electric generation facilities such as coal-fired or nuclear power plants.  Protesters now face the risk of being charged for criminal trespass, even if they do no damage.  Here is the link to email your views on the bill to Governor DeWine, who has up to Jan. 10 to either sign or veto it. If he does neither, it becomes law. https://governor.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/governor/contact

Under SB 33, “anyone convicted of stepping foot on critical infrastructure property and “causing another person to believe that the offender will cause physical harm” would be guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor, a class of crime that includes domestic violence and drunk driving and is punishable with up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.” Rev. Slaughter continues. “Those who trespass ‘with purpose to destroy or tamper with the facility’ face third-degree felony charges, which in Ohio can result in up to five years in jail and $10,000 in fines.

“Any organizations that ‘knowingly direct, authorize, facilitate, or encourage a person to commit any of the following offenses or provide compensation to a person for committing any of the following offenses’ can be ‘punished with a fine that is ten times the maximum fine that can be imposed on an individual.’ Companies that operate critical infrastructure could then sue those same organizations in civil court, too.”

Gun bill updates

The Ohio Legislature added a Stand Your Ground provision to SB 175 and passed it.  Governor DeWine signed the bill into law yesterday. This now allows people to use lethal force anywhere they are legally present if they feel they are in danger, even if they have a safe option to retreat. The police chiefs of Ohio’s six largest cities wrote in opposition that the bill encourages vigilantism, disproportionately harms people of color, and encourages violence.Sub HB 421, which would have authorized school districts to arm teachers and staff without safety training, did not pass the House before the end of the session. This bill was also strongly opposed by the six major city police chiefs.

The Ohio Legislature passed three criminal justice reform bills, which have now gone to the Governor for his decision: SB 256 abolishes life sentences without parole (with some exceptions) for juvenile offenders. HB 1 will allow more people into diversion programs for drug and alcohol abuse in lieu of a criminal conviction, and will make it easier to seal records of past convictions, making it easier for people to get jobs. HB 136 prohibits the death penalty for people with serious mental illness when they committed aggravated murder, and instead requires life imprisonment without parole. As of the morning of Jan. 5, the Governor had not yet signed or vetoed these bills.  Please email the Governor at https://governor.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/governor/contact  to express your views.

2019-20 Legislature fails to act on HB 6

House Speaker Bob Cupp announced that the Ohio House could not reach a consensus on what to do about the 2019 nuclear bailout bill at the heart of the $61 million-dollar federal bribery and racketeering case against former Ohio Speaker Larry Householder, so they took no action on any of the pending bills to repeal or delay the bill. In the meantime, a Franklin County judge blocked the new charges that would have gone on all ratepayers’ bills to subsidize Energy Harbor’s two Ohio nuclear plants until the federal case reaches its conclusion. Andy Chow of the Statehouse News Bureau published an excellent overview of the HB 6 controversy last week:  https://www.statenews.org/post/2020-year-review-despite-nuclear-bailout-scandal-republican-leaders-keep-hb6  Creation care and environmental justice are integral to the Episcopal Church’s Becoming Beloved Community initiative, so we will keep you abreast of developments on this issue when the Ohio Legislature reconvenes in the new year.

We will keep you apprised as bills on HB 6 are introduced and the criminal case against Householder proceeds. Bob Cupp was reelected House Speaker, and Matt Huffman is the new Senate President. As Seth Richardson reported in Cleveland.com on Jan. 5 (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/gov-mike-dewine-signs-controversial-stand-your-ground-bill-capitol-letter/ar-BB1cugIh)   “Cupp said Monday that he plans to continue trying to repeal or replace House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout law at the center of a federal corruption investigation. “’We’ll have to talk to the new members in our caucus to figure out what our way forward is, but it is still a high priority on our agenda to find a solution,’  he said.

“Huffman meanwhile told reporters that his chamber may not wait on the House to move something. ‘I do think that we really need to get a better answer whether the subsidies are needed for the nuclear energy, Energy Harbor plants, or not,’ Huffman said. ‘I think a year ago a lot of people were convinced that they were. I think there’s less reason to believe that now.’”

Legislative advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming,  and a member of the diocesan Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team.