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Ohio House Approves Legislation Aimed At Protest Behavior

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The definition of obstructing justice in Ohio would be expanded to include failure to follow a lawful order or diverting a law enforcement officer's attention, under a bill approved Friday by Republican House lawmakers.

The bill is one of four GOP proposals that would criminalize or increase penalties associated with behavior at last year's racial injustice and police brutality protests.

Sponsoring GOP Reps. Jeffrey LaRae and Shane Wilkin say the measure is needed to protect both police officers and peaceful protesters and will not thwart the filming of police. Opponents, including the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, call it an effort to discourage free speech and the right to protest.

It goes next to the Ohio Senate, where similar legislation is being considered.

Also Friday, the House approved:

— A bill increasing criminal penalties for hazing in Ohio, following the 2018 death of Collin Wiant, an 18-year-old Ohio University student who died after ingesting nitrous oxide. A version of the legislation stalled last year, but it gained momentum after the March death of Bowling Green State University student Stone Foltz in another alleged fraternity hazing incident.

Under the legislation, hazing violations under existing prohibitions would become second-degree misdemeanors. New prohibitions would make it a third-degree felony to recklessly permit or participate in hazing that involves forced consumption of drugs or alcohol and causes someone serious physical harm. The bill now goes back to the Senate for consideration of minor changes in the House version.

— A bill by which Ohio would rate the performance of schools using a five-star system instead of A to F letter grades in the state report card system. The legislation makes other changes that supporters say help make the reports clearer and more useful. It also would make the SAT and ACT exams optional for high schoolers. The bill now heads to Gov. Mike DeWine.

— A bill requiring a fine and community service for a misdemeanor assault offense if the victim is a sports official and the assault is committed during or immediately before or after games or in retaliation to officials' rulings. Co-sponsor Reps. Bill Roemer, a Republican from Richland in northeastern Ohio, and Joe Miller, a Democrat from Amherst in northern Ohio, say the legislation is needed to help stop abuse of sports officials which is leading to fewer and fewer people willing to do the job. The bill goes now to the Senate.

In addition, House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, said Friday he expects the joint House-Senate committee ironing out differences in the state's $75 billion budget to finish their work by Monday.

Also this week, the Ohio Senate on Thursday amended its previously approved sports betting bill to allow for more brick-and-mortar sports books in the state's largest counties.

Counties with a population of between 400,000 and 800,000, which includes Cincinnati's Hamilton County, are now allowed three licenses instead of two. Cuyahoga and Franklin counties are now allowed five licenses instead of three.

The previous version approved last week gave professional sports teams priority to obtain brick-and-mortar licenses which could have prevented casinos and racinos in those three counties from hosting sports books.

(Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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