The Ohio House of Representatives should stand up for civil rights and stand up to corporate interests that want to make protesting a crime in Ohio. They can do both by voting down Senate Bill 33.
Approved 24-8 by the Senate in May, the bill creates new categories of criminal and civil offenses for “willfully damaging critical infrastructure facilities.” The language refers to refineries, water treatment plants, electric generating plants, telecommunications structures and more, but the genesis for the bill was protests of energy pipelines such as those that held up construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016.
Since then, bills like SB 33 have popped up around the country, backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed group that writes model legislation attuned to corporations’ interests and enlists state lawmakers around the country to introduce them.
Fossil fuel industry giants are among ALEC’s biggest backers, and ALEC model bills include measures to weaken environmental protections and undermine the development of carbon-free energy alternatives.
Backers claim the pipeline protest bill is about safety — to prevent dangerous accidents that could result from anyone damaging or tampering with infrastructure. But no supporter could define for Columbus Dispatch reporter Martin Schladen what “tampering” means in the context of the bill.
Does it include classic acts of civil disobedience, such as standing in the way of a bulldozer?
The Dispatch doesn’t condone damage to public or private property, and Ohio already has laws against trespassing and criminal damaging. By piling on heavier penalties and by virtue of the interests backing it, SB 33 seems designed to intimidate people whose protests might inconvenience pipeline companies and cost them money.
It seeks to silence opposition by creating fines of up to $100,000 on organizations that support protesters. Ohio lawmakers should be more responsive to Ohioans and less compliant with big donors.