Yesterday’s pro-choice rally at the Ohio Statehouse gave us a preview of what future “security upgrades” at the public building might look like. It wasn’t pretty and it’s only going to get worse.
The mostly-female crowd of over 100 showed up to protest the anti-choice amendments recently added to the state budget and to deliver 17,000 petitions to Kasich at his Statehouse office. Kasich’s staff locked the office and refused to accept the petitions, which were then left in a pile outside.
Attendees noticed an increased presence of Ohio Highway Patrol troopers inside and outside of the Statehouse, and troopers were inspecting the bags of people entering the building, something State Rep. Teresa Fedor found extremely unusual: “We checked bags today,” she said. “When we have bills on guns, we don’t check bags.”
In addition to the increased Patrol presence, one attendee explained that there were “guys in suits in the House telling us we couldn’t take pictures, be in the aisle, stand up, etc.” The “guys in suits” appear to have been the house sergeant-at-arms and his assistants, who are responsible for the security of house members and staff.
During hearings in the House, the sergeants-at-arms attempted to force all of the protesters to sit together in the gallery “so they could control us”, said one attendee. State Reps Connie Pillich and Nickie Antonio eventually came up to the gallery to diffuse the tension and allow the spectators to sit wherever they wished.
Spectators at the Senate hearings were not given the same courtesy, instead they were all forcibly removed from the gallery, including Kellie Copeland, Executive Director of NARAL Ohio, who was “personally shoved in the back from the gallery to the door”.
During earlier conference committee hearings on the budget, Senate Republicans blocked the broadcast of the hearings, going so far as to put bags over the cameras in the House Finance hearing room.
Lt. Ann Ralston of the Ohio Highway Patrol confirmed that there was an increased presence of troopers at the building and they were checking the bags of everyone entering the building. Both of these changes came at the request of Sergeant-at-Arms Richard “Butch” Collins. Troopers were not involved in the events that took place in the galleries.
Ever since the big SB5 rallies rocked the Statehouse, Kasich and Republicans in the legislature have been looking for ways to limit access to “the People’s House“. The current budget sets aside over $1 Million to pay for the “security upgrades” which will including having every visitor screened by officers with security wands while registered lobbyists receive a special badge exempting them from the screenings.
Since taking office, Kasich has also used the cover of “security concerns” to avoid releasing public records and as an excuse for the multimillion dollar increases in the cost of his security. Plunderbund currently has a case pending with the Ohio Supreme Court over public records that the Kasich administration is refusing to release for “security concerns”.