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Bipartisan Ohio House proposal addresses recent university protests

Hundreds of protestors gather at the Ohio Union on Ohio State University's campus on April 25, 2024.
George Shillcock
WOSU Public Media
Hundreds of protestors gather at the Ohio Union on Ohio State University's campus on April 25, 2024.

A bipartisan proposal introduced in the Ohio House on Thursday aims to address what lawmakers see as holes in both universities' anti-bias policies and their public demonstration policies, after recent protests against the latest Israel-Hamas war.

House Bill 606, or the CAMPUS Act, would allocate $4 million in state money toward several newly-established grant programs, including one to boost security for student organizations that are at-risk for racial, religious or ethnic harassment or intimidation.

It also requires the state's chancellor of education to establish both a committee on combatting antisemitism and other forms of hate, and a uniform system for schools to submit detailed data on hate incidents to state officials.

Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson), part of the House Jewish Caucus, said the bill—and those provisions in particular—is personal. He said too often, incidents of hate are unreported or underreported, so this seeks to address that.

“We want to balance protections from harassment and intimidation for Jewish students who were very clear in their communications to us that they have at times felt unsafe,” Weinstein said in an interview.

But lawmakers said the bill's provisions strike that balance with protesters’ First Amendment rights, too.

“This bill promotes transparency, so that everyone is on the same page and understands university policies,” Rep. Justin Pizzulli (R-Scioto County) said in an interview. Pizzulli is sponsoring the bill with Rep. Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus).

For one, it mandates that schools publicize any time, place and manner restrictions they put on protests or other activities.

State and local agencies arrested three dozen people at Ohio State University last month, the culmination of six hours of pro-Palestine protests against the war in Gaza—citing a policy that barred students from protesting on the main greens, including the South Oval, after 10 p.m.

At the time, DeWine lauded the agencies.

“People have a right to express their opinions, but if that gets in the way of other students learning, if they're chanting outside a classroom or in a way that is interfering with what goes on at any university, I think the law is very clear,” DeWine said.

Weinstein said he’s heartened both parties are working to move the bill. “There's enough division out there. We don't need to add partisanship to it,” he said.

HB 606 is awaiting a first hearing.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at sdonaldson@statehousenews.org.