Originally published in the Youngstown Vindicator.
It took many decades of lawsuits and court decisions to establish the parameters and boundaries of free speech in this country. As a result, society has reasonably clear guidance on who can speak, when they can speak, where they can speak, and what they can say without running afoul of interference or punishment from their government.
Photo: Supreme Court of Ohio
Once again, Sunshine Week has arrived. This is the week advocates, activists, academics, the news media, and others call attention to the importance of laws that keep government records and official meetings open to the public.
Earlier this month, members of the Ohio General Assembly gathered to receive information about capital punishment in Ohio. The Joint Legislative Study Committee on Victims’ Rights listened to a representative from the Office of the Attorney General while he discussed the problems Ohio is having obtaining the needed drugs to execute people.
Police body worn cameras are now a reality in Ohio. Law enforcement rapidly continues to purchase and use them, and before we know it they will be an afterthought as part of everyday policing.
Striking a Balance
Body cams are also a complex issue for organizations like the ACLU of Ohio because they raise issues of police accountability, personal privacy, surveillance, and government transparency.
With early voting now underway in Ohio, the potential that marijuana may be legalized remains the hottest political topic in our state. With Colorado reporting sales of $100 million in just the last month, it’s ensured that legalization will remain on peoples’ minds here and everywhere else.
Almost 40 years ago, long before the issue took off around the country, Ohio legislators decriminalized the possession of marijuana up to 100 grams, a not insignificant amount. This was welcome progress, and the hope was lawmakers and police across Ohio would soon focus their attention elsewhere.
If you live in Ohio and are inclined to follow political news and developments, you are already aware voters will be asked in November whether or not they favor legalizing marijuana in Ohio.
What you probably do not know is Toledo voters have a similar issue on their citywide ballot.
In a trend I hope will last, the public is paying much more attention than it once did to how law enforcement operates. As a result, on any given day there are various community discussions, debates, and media analyses on topics, such as uses of force, racial profiling, targeting of communities of color, and police militarization.
The Ohio General Assembly has now passed the state budget, and the first quarter of the two-year legislative session is over. As always, the ACLU of Ohio has been very active at the Statehouse in what was a very busy first six months.
If you spend enough time at the Ohio Statehouse you quickly learn bad ideas have a habit of never going away.
Such is the case with the drug-testing of welfare recipients. Legislation to accomplish this has been introduced in previous legislative sessions, but stalled for unknown reasons.
Almost a year ago, The Columbus Dispatch began a series covering alarming gaps and abuse in Ohio’s guardianship system. It didn’t take long for lawmakers to respond and soon we had legislation to help bring reform in Ohio.
Ohio House Bill (HB) 624, sponsored by Representative Dorothy Pelanda (R-District 86) during the 2013-2014 legislative session, would have allowed for the distribution of a ward’s “bill of rights,” and to require that a guardian receive the Ohio Guardianship Guide, prepared by the Ohio Attorney General, and acknowledge its receipt.
Last December, Ohio’s so-called “Heartbeat Bill” ultimately expired when a majority of members in the Ohio House of Representatives voted against it as the legislative session wound down.
However, Statehouse watchers knew to expect it back some time after the new session started in January.
Photo: West Midlands Police via Flickr Creative Commons
Every so often, new or updated technology is introduced to law enforcement. The list includes tear gas, pepper spray, stun guns, dashboard cameras, and automatic license plate readers, among other things.
These tools greatly assist police.
There are those who operate under the theory that if something is said long enough and loud enough it becomes reality.
The more cynical among us believe it doesn’t matter if the something said is true or not, so long as people believe it is.
As the end of the year approaches, what went on in the final days of the 130th Ohio General Assembly?
When last I wrote about the Ohio legislature’s “lame duck” session, I provided updates on the so-called Heartbeat Bill and the lethal injection bill.
If you are a member of the ACLU of Ohio, you are no doubt used to hearing from us about our work. Perhaps it is no surprise an organization known for protecting the First Amendment often exercises its own right to free speech.
“I didn’t realize, while I was on the bench that when I sentenced someone to 5-6 years I was sentencing them to life”. Those are the words of former Stark County Common Pleas Judge Harry Klide, who sat with me recently to discuss criminal justice reform.
There is a crisis going on and, like all crises, things are not working out perfectly. In this case, the latest concern is the estimated 57,000+ people who have found their way to the southern border of the U.S. and into the country.
While Americans of all political persuasions continue the debate about who enters this country and under what circumstances, an important development is taking place under the radar, away from the yelling.
For several years, local jails have cooperated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to screen all new prisoners.
For about a year, food service in Ohio has been handled by a private company, Aramark Correctional Services. While privatization of public services is not ordinarily a civil liberties issue, it is when the switch affects peoples’ rights. Such is the case now.
If we’re keeping tabs on who has the most sleepless nights these days, my vote goes to the folks who work for the Federal Aviation Administration. In addition to the agency’s numerous other tasks, the FAA is responsible for developing regulations for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or, as they are more commonly known, drones.
It is understandably difficult to keep track of everything that goes on at the Statehouse. We have a hard time ourselves. The current two-year legislative session is 75% over and, with important elections looming, we expect the Statehouse will be quieter during the fall until the lame duck session.