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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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        A bill pending in the state legislature that would expand the authority of township police departments to patrol on interstate highways appears destined to die this year in committee. But its primary sponsor, Rep. Steve Hambley, said he expected it to be re-introduced in 2019.

        Currently, police departments in townships with populations of less than 50,000 residents lack statutory authority to make warrantless stops on interstates. House Bill 255 would have lowered the population threshold to 5,000.

        After being introduced by Hambley, R – Brunswick, in June 2017, the bill received testimony from proponents in September 2017 before the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee. Since then, the committee, chaired by Rep. Doug Green, R- Mt. Orab, hasn’t held any hearings on the bill.

        “I would suggest that given the statewide interest, if this bill does not become enacted in this General Assembly it will likely be reintroduced in the next session by either myself or other members until this important issue of public safety is adequately resolved,” Hambley told The Press by email earlier this year.

        Rep. Green didn’t respond to a certified letter sent by The Press to his office in October asking if he planned to hold additional hearings in 2018 on the bill.

        The bill has been opposed by the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, which contends many smaller township officers would be leaving their jurisdictions to get to interstates because of limited access points. Also, the BSSA argued the townships would use their interstate patrol authority to bolster their revenues through drug interdiction and asset forfeiture.

        Lake Township police chief Mark Hummer was one of about 16 proponents to testify before the committee. Since then, he came up with a compromise along with Rep. Hambley and Rep. Theresa Gavarone, R – Bowling Green.

        In a July 27 letter to Robert Cornwell, executive director of the BSSA, chief Hummer wrote the compromise addresses the association’s concerns.

        “First, we would support an amendment that would stipulate any township police department that wants to enforce the laws on an interstate highway must have at least one direct access point inside the township. Thus, township officers would not be required to leave the township to enter or exit that highway,” the letter says. “The second part of that amendment would require township trustees to approve a resolution supporting enforcement by its officers on interstate highways inside their jurisdiction. I understand these are two points of contention your organization has with this legislation, and we are hoping an amendment…..will lead to BSSA support for its passage.”

        But in August, the BSSA board of directors rejected the bill even with the proposed amendments.

        In his email to The Press, Hambley said Rep. Green, as committee chairman, hasn’t “…indicated an ability to convince the BSSA to further discuss the bill either privately with proponents or publicly with committee members.”

        State Senator Randy Gardner, R- Bowling Green, supports the bill as does Rep. Steve Arndt, R – Port Clinton.

        Rep. Mike Sheehy, D – Oregon, a member of the transportation and safety committee, said earlier this year he was leaning against supporting the bill over concern it could lead to a large increase in traffic tickets being issued in rural areas. However, he’s willing to consider it given the seriousness of the opiate problem in Ohio.

        Chief Hummer last week called the bill “common sense legislation.”

        “There is absolutely no reason for the Wood County sheriff or the BSSA to object to it,” he said.

        The push to give township departments more authority on interstates stems from a 2015 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court involving a traffic stop on I-280 by a Lake Township police officer who pulled over a motorist for a lane violation.  The driver had a suspended license and an active warrant in Michigan. The officer’s drug-sniffing dog also alerted to oxycodone tablets and marijuana. But that evidence was suppressed on appeal because the officer lacked the statutory authority to stop the driver.

        “The effect of this ruling was widespread and courts threw out a multitude of cases across the state, essentially letting a number of OVI and drug traffickers walk free,” Hambley said last year during his sponsor testimony to the committee.

        He emphasized that HB 255 isn’t a mandate.

       “It would only be permissive for township police departments to use that arrest authority on interstate highways that are within their own townships to enforce the state’s traffic laws,” he said.

       

 

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