COLUMBUS – Feb. 25: State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and two Ohio citizens who were not let in to the Ohio Statehouse earlier this week announced today that they are filing a suit to avoid being shut out of the statehouse in the future. Teachers Hazel Hicks and Mark Baumgartner joined Rep. Fedor in filing the suit, which will allow for quicker legal action in the future if citizen-access to the statehouse is denied again.
“In my 34 years of service to this state and country, I have never seen citizens denied access to their government like I saw on Tuesday here at the Ohio Statehouse,” said Rep. Fedor. “Hundreds of citizens – teachers, firefighters and police officers – were denied the right enter the statehouse and voice their concerns about a bill that would have far reaching effects on their families and their communities. Today we stand together to make sure this never happens again.”
On Tuesday, February 22, the Ohio Senate continued hearings on Senate Bill 5, the controversial anti-working family bill which has brought thousands of people to the Statehouse in protest. Citizens rallied on the Statehouse lawn and then proceeded to enter the building like they had done the prior week. Upon arrival they found uniformed State Highway Patrol troopers stationed at all entrances. They were advised only 700 individuals would be allowed to enter the public building which according to the State Fire Marshal can hold 5,000.
“We are simply asking that the taxpaying citizens of Ohio have a right to enter the building and participate in the democratic process,” said Rep. Fedor. “I am greatly concerned that individuals in this government made calculated decisions to limit speech, deny access and prevent individual citizens who opposed Senate Bill 5 from voicing their concerns. These hard working individuals were literally and figuratively left out in the cold on Tuesday.”
In addition to limiting citizen access to the statehouse, questions were also raised about why the hearing was moved to a smaller committee room and why access was restricted to the committee room where numerous seats remained empty throughout the course of the hearing.
“Our voice has been consistently locked out,” said Mark Baumgartner. “This is just another example of our voice not being heard or valued.”
Hazel Hicks added, “I felt violated at the fact that I could not enter the Capitol. I am a taxpayer and have been for years – I was born in Ohio. And I drove all those hours from Cleveland and I wasn’t allowed in. I felt like I was in Libya.”
The lawsuit will be filed in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on Monday. By doing so, it will allow quicker action to acquire a temporary restraining order to keep the Statehouse open if access is denied during future hearings. It will also provide an opportunity through the discovery process to find out who made the decisions to limit public access to the statehouse and the committee room.
Also participating in the press conference today were representatives of the American Federation of Teachers, Ohio Federation of Teachers and Progress Ohio.