Statue of liberty with gag

There’s a mantra that Americans are the freest people in the world. The First Amendment guarantees our right to free speech, assembly and redress of grievances. The Republican-dominated Ohio State Senate opposes these basic principles and they memorialize their hatred of civil liberties in Senate Bill 33.

Known all over the nation as the “pipeline protest bill,” SB 33 criminalizes protest activities. This ALEC-based (American Legislative Exchange Council) bill already passed through nine state legislatures – and passed 24-8 in the Ohio Senate. Ohio State Senator Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction), the man who introduced SB 33, is a member of ALEC.

The bill makes trespassing on “critical infrastructure” property different than regular trespassing and defines “critical” as pipelines, natural gas plants, other facilities and even property where a pipeline might someday be built. Protestors found in violation can face a third-degree felony that carries a prison sentence from three months to five years and increases of fines by the ten-fold – up to $100,000.

Environmental activist Teresa Mills testified against SB 33 before the Ohio Senate, stressing that Ohio communities struggle with toxic contamination and assaults by the extraction industry with little assurance that their health and environment will be protected. “Our safety net is growing weaker,” she stated, “SB 33 will take away one of the last tools that citizens have to protect themselves.”

Mills quoted a United Nations report on bills like SB 33: “If enacted, the Bills would highly curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and peaceful assembly in ways that are incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law…. The Bill would have a chilling effect on protestors, stripping the voice of the most marginalized….”

Jen Miller, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, testified that SB 33’s vague language poses risks to demonstrators and could criminalize something as innocuous as posting flyers about an upcoming rally. Activists point out that since Ohio already has laws against criminal trespass and vandalism, SB 33 is unnecessary and only serves the purpose of targeting peaceful activists.

The ultimate irony is that the Ohio State legislature just gave a billion-dollar bailout to two decrepit nuclear plants on Lake Erie. One – Perry – is on an earthquake fault. The other – Davis Besse – has a defective container lid. If you go there to peacefully protest these threats to public health and safety, you could go to prison. Even holding a meeting to plan a rally could get you arrested.

Some of the most disturbing points made by the Freedom Demands Action group that is spearheading the movement to stop SB 33 are:

SB 33 would criminalize the ministry of justice-focused churches and faith-based justice organizations who engage in or support peaceful public protest at critical infrastructure sites.

If a faith-based justice group or a church is found complicit when one of its members is found guilty of felony “intending to tamper” or “improperly tampering” with a “critical infrastructure” location, the church may face a $100,000 fine. This would destroy most churches and most faith-based organizations.

A church may not assist a member with paying a fine, which blocks a congregation from its religious duty to care for its members in times of distress and need.

The impetus for this flurry of draconian legislation was the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access pipeline. Big Oil appears to be behind the movement. reported that “…an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.” 

 “The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted [the] ‘model legislation’,” wrote EcoWatch, and they noted that “AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.” The notorious Koch brothers are key sponsors of ALEC and numerous examples of pro-corporate “model legislation.” David Koch, one of the brothers, recently died, but has left a lingering legacy of oppression in Ohio.

Some concerned activists point out that SB 33 sponsor Senator Hoagland owns START – Special Tactics and Rescue Training, that are “specialists in professional preemptive solutions” for clients such as oil and gas industry corporations. The START website proposes this to potential oil and gas businesses: “Let Our Former Military Personnel Check Out Your Situation.” START offers these services: “Our team of highly trained professionals will help you determine where you stand on security issues and what changes you might want to implement…We'll provide an assessment team that will come to your facility and conduct a full-on security assessment of the property.” That Hoagland could potentially financially benefit from SB 33 is considered a conflict of interest and/or self-dealing by those against the bill.

What can you do to stop this bill?

SB 33 may be voted on in the Ohio House after the legislators return to work on September 16. Concerned citizens can write letters to their state representatives and plan to join Freedom Demands Action and the Coshocton Environmental and Community Awareness (CECA) to talk to their representatives about the bill:

Educate a Legislator Day

Thursday, September 19, 2019

9:00a.m. – 3:00p.m.

Starting at the Sheraton Columbus Capitol Square

75 East State Street, Columbus

CECA will find out when your legislator is available and set up an appointment for you or your group. Go to and fill out the form to volunteer. Talking points are also available on the website.

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