FACT CHECK: Does Ohio Law “Make Protesting a Crime”?

CLAIM: The Columbus Dispatch published an editorial that claims pending legislation in Ohio designed to protect the safety of the public and workers on pipeline and other infrastructure projects “threatens to shut down free speech,” “(makes) protesting a crime” and “seems designed to intimidate people whose protests might inconvenience pipeline companies and cost them money.”






Like similar bills around the country, Senate Bill 33 in Ohio is very clear about what it sets out to do and why. It is designed to increase penalties for protesters who damage, disrupt or trespass at critical infrastructure projects – including pipelines. Specifically, the bill:

  • Adds new prohibitions under the offenses of criminal mischief, criminal trespass, aggravated trespass, and making false alarms that pertain to specified types of conduct occurring in or on a critical infrastructure facility.
  • Provides for the imposition of increased fines on organizations that are complicit in those offenses or that are complicit in the offense of telecommunications harassment that involves a threat of damage to or destruction of a critical infrastructure facility.
  • Creates a new civil cause of action for willfully causing damage to a critical infrastructure facility.

These laws are needed because of illegal and dangerous activities at pipeline projects across the country. Protesters have caused significant damage to pipeline projects and placed themselves and workers in danger with their illegal activities. We have seen protesters set fires on public roads, set fire to machinery and use torches to cut steel valves on a pipeline, chain themselves to machinery, and crawl into a pipeline, to name just a few.

Finally, absolutely nothing in the Senate Bill 33 infringes upon free speech or “makes protesting a crime.” Instead, it increases penalties for illegal activities and applies existing laws and definitions to actions often conducted by protesters.