(The Center Square) — A state lawmaker has proposed a bill to give the state attorney general the authority to investigate and prosecute vandalism on state property, including the Ohio statehouse.
Republican state lawmakers have expressed their frustration as protesters in downtown Columbus vandalized the Ohio Statehouse in recent weeks. In announcing his proposal, state Rep. Jeff LaRe, R-Violet Township, cited a WBNS-TV report that the Columbus city prosecutor dismissed at least 59 charges stemming from the recent protests.
Under current law, the state attorney general cannot investigate such crimes, according to a news release. Under the proposal, the attorney general would be empowered to investigate vandalism on any property the state owns or leases.
“I support the constitutional right of people to peacefully assemble and protest. That’s an important cornerstone of our democracy,” LaRe said in a statement. “But destruction and violence is a crime. And when crimes are not prosecuted, it sends the message that the criminal activity is not only condoned but endorsed.”
If the proposal makes it into law, it would only apply to future instances of vandalism. The attorney general could not levy charges against anyone for previous cases of vandalism.
Under the bill, local prosecutors could still investigate and prosecute crimes that occur on state property. The state attorney general could present evidence to a grand jury or refer the matter to local authorities for further consideration.
Last month, House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, threatened to cut state funding to the city of Columbus after protesters vandalized the Ohio Statehouse.
Protesters defaced the Ohio Statehouse with red handprints. Householder subsequently said he wanted the cost to clean up the vandalism to come from the city’s budget.
“It is our goal to protect the public’s right to peacefully protest, but that does not condone acts of vandalism,” Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther tweeted at the time.
A spokesperson for the state attorney general declined to comment on the proposal, while a representative for Columbus’ city attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Todd DeFeo is a contributor to The Center Square