SIDNEY — Legislation proposed in February by Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, 85th District, has elicited uneasy responses from local law enforcement officials.
Earlier this year, Vitale presented legislation that would nullify in Ohio all federal laws enacted since Jan. 1, 2016, that have anything to do with firearms, and would criminalize anyone, including police, sheriffs and their staffs, who enforced such federal law. House Bill 460 has been referred to the Ohio legislature’s State Government Committee, according to an aide in Vitale’s office who asked not to be identified.
See sidebar for the bill’s text.
In answer to inquiries made by the Sidney Daily News, Shelby County Prosecutor Tim Sell, Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart and Sidney Police Chief Will Balling expressed concern over the ramifications of such a bill.
Balling questioned its constitutionality.
“This legislation … if adopted, (would) potentially negatively impact home rule authority within the state of Ohio. This bill would force jurisdictions to decide whether to follow potential federal regulations or state regulations that could oppose each other. If we — local governments — would follow federal regulations, the state then could impose fines and other penalties on local governments and their staff,” he said.
Sell said the measure would create a difficult situation for law enforcement officers, including prosecutors.
“We’re not in the business of violating federal laws,” he said. “Local law enforcement, including prosecutors, are in the business of enforcing state laws; however, in the process of doing that, we would not want to violate federal law. (HB 460) is a tough law that would leave law enforcement in a tough position.”
Lenhart went so far as to say that adhering to such a law would cause him to violate his oath of office.
“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the state of Ohio and the Constitution of the United States. While I support the legal rights of citizens to bear arms, I do that understanding that there are times when individuals act irresponsibly, and there is a penalty for such behavior. Men and women in law enforcement or our military are not politicians and must follow the law as enacted by legislators. Nobody supports the Second Amendment more than I do, but I also live in a realistic world.”
In addition, he voiced concern that if this law were in place and he participated in any enforcement action or investigation of a federal law, he would be charged with a crime, a first degree misdemeanor.
Both Lenhart and Balling worried about what it might mean to local coffers if they elected to follow federal regulations that went against state ones.
“By complying with this introduced version, I could forego tens of thousands of federal money that could come to Shelby County,” Lenhart said. “The total operating budget for Shelby County is the same as it was in 2001, according to the Shelby County commissioners. This would be absolutely irresponsible on my part, and I believe a miscarriage of justice for the citizens of this county and the state of Ohio if House Bill 460 becomes law.”
The house will not even consider whether or not to make it a law until the proposal has worked its way through the legislative process. That means it first will get four hearings by the State Government Committee.
Vitale will present it and discuss why he proposed it. Then, other proponents of the bill will be heard. They may include some or all of its 10 cosponsors, all Republicans, including Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, 84th District, as well as lobbyists and citizens. The third hearing will give opponents of the legislation a chance to present their case. The fourth hearing allows interested parties on either side of the issue to speak.
Following the hearings, the committee will vote on whether or not to refer the bill to the full house for a vote. If they do so refer it, the bill will then move into the Rules and References Committee, who will vote for the date to put it on the house floor. And on that date, the members of the state House of Representatives will begin to debate it in advance of a vote.
No committee hearings have yet been scheduled.
“The city of Sidney will continue to monitor this bill,” Balling said.