COLUMBUS, Ohio—Broadening the definition of obstructing justice, delaying expiration dates of liquor licenses, and making “fertility fraud” a felony are just some of what’s being sought in a slew of bills introduced in the Ohio House on Friday.
The bills – 67 in all – also include a number of renewed attempts to pass high-profile legislation that failed to become law last session, including a long-sought school-funding overhaul, multiple bills to revise or repeal the scandal-ridden House Bill 6 energy law, and expand broadband internet access to parts of rural Ohio.
Under House Bill 22, the crime of obstructing justice would be expanded to include failing to follow a lawful order from a law enforcement officer or diverting a law enforcement officer’s attention via taunting, throwing objects, or coming close enough to touch them.
“I know that the timing of it looked like it solely stems from the riots (last year) -- and I’m not talking about peaceful protests, but the actual riots and the vandalism -- that took place,” said state Rep. Jeff LaRe, a Fairfield County Republican co-sponsoring the bill. “But, in reality, it has to do with the day-to-day duties of law enforcement and when they’re in a situation where they’re trying to detain somebody or hold the perimeter of a crime scene, and you’ve got people that aren’t giving them their space and are throwing stuff at them.”
However, LaRe said the change, should it become law, “could definitely come into play” during protests if, for example, officers are trying to keep a group contained to a certain area and people start throwing water bottles at police.
When asked if the bill would make taunting a police officer a crime, LaRe noted that the bill only covers incidents when someone is attempting to distract the officer from another person committing a crime. But he added that “there’s some vagueness to the word ‘taunting’” and that he is “open to ideas” about how to “firm up” the language of the bill.
The penalties for obstructing justice range from a misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, depending on the severity of the crime that the person is trying to distract or hinder the officer from dealing with.
Under another measure, House Bill 46, Ohio restaurants and bars with liquor licenses set to expire in 2021 would not have to renew them until 2022. The bill, introduced by Democratic state Rep. Adam Miller of suburban Columbus and Republican state Rep. Sara Carruthers of the Cincinnati area, would also eliminate a requirement in current law that only 35% of a restaurant gift certificate’s value can be used to purchase alcohol (the rest must be used to buy food).
House Bill 64, from state Rep. Jena Powell of Darke County, seeks to crack down on cases where a fertility doctor uses his own sperm to impregnate a patient without her knowledge. Such cases have increasingly come to light as children born as a result of such procedures take DNA heredity tests, though some victims have encountered trouble bringing the doctors to justice.
HB64 would make it a third-degree felony in Ohio for a health-care professional to use human reproductive material on a patient without their consent.
Other newly introduced bills deal with issues left over from the last legislative session, which ended in December.
One of the most prominent is a long-sought overhaul of the state’s K-12 funding system, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court more than two decades ago.
House Bill 1 (a designation usually given to top-priority legislation) is similar to a bipartisan reform plan put forward last session by House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, and then-state Rep. John Patterson, an Ashtabula County Democrat. That previous bill, House Bill 305, passed the House but died in the Senate.
HB1, like HB305 before it, would decrease schools’ reliance on local property taxes and increase state funding by an estimated $2 billion per year. Much of the criticism of the bill involves that price tag.
There are also Republican and Democratic bills to repeal House Bill 6, which authorized a $1 billion-plus bailout to two northern Ohio nuclear power plants. The law is now under intense scrutiny after former House Speaker Larry Householder and four allies were arrested and accused of running a $60 million bribery scheme to get the bill passed.
Since then, legislative Republicans have talked about repealing the law, but so far they’ve done nothing.
House Bill 2 seeks to address another issue left over from last session: expanding high-speed broadband internet to areas of the state that don’t yet have it. The bill, introduced by state Rep. Rick Carfagna, a Delaware County Republican, would offer $20 million in grants to internet providers to expand their network.
Like school-funding reform, the Ohio House passed the measure last session, but it stalled in the Senate.