COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio lawmakers are in Columbus as legislators convene for lame duck, the period between Election Day and the start of January’s new legislative session.
One bill is House Bill 462, introduced last October that would make swatting a felony of the third degree. The Republican-introduced bill had its third committee hearing on Tuesday with opponent testimony.
“The behavior that the bill is looking to criminalize is already illegal,” Legislative Policy Manager for the Office of the Ohio Public Defender Niki Clum said. “It adds to an overly complicated criminal code and when things are overly complicated and hard to navigate, mistakes happen.”
Swatting is when an individual makes a false call to get a large amount of armed law enforcement to a certain location. Most recently, swatting calls were made in September to high schools across Ohio, including Licking Valley High School.
“We were lined up against the wall, just sitting down, and that went on for about 45 minutes,” a senior at Licking Valley High School, Kelebrant Hays, said on the day of the incident.
“I just wanted to make sure she was safe and that was going through my mind the whole trip here,” Licking Valley High School parent Andrew Waites said. “I didn’t care what happened to me I just needed to get to my daughter.”
The bill states if the swatting results in physical harm, it is a felony of the first degree. However, on Tuesday, the committee amended it to a felony of the second degree. No members opposed this change.
“This would increase those penalties but there is a lot of overlap in the offenses so then the behavior is criminalized twice with two different penalties,” Clum said.
Clum said swatting is already illegal under four Ohio statutes, including making false alarm, inducing panic, felonious assault and involuntary manslaughter.
Criminal Justice Committee Chair Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Twp.) said the future of the bill “remains to be seen.” He said they planned to discuss the bill in caucus Tuesday, which is closed to the public and media.
After more hearings, the committee would have to vote to move the bill to the house floor.