Now awaiting Ohio Senate action is a significant measure that, with a few tweaks, could become a national model by making police body camera footage a public record. A limited number of exceptions would rest mostly on personal privacy grounds. Substitute House Bill 425 has attracted no opposition, although Dennis Hetzel, president of the Ohio News Media Association, has suggested modest changes that could be made via amendments on the Senate floor.
In June, Ohio's House voted 94-0 for HB 425. On Dec. 6, the Ohio Senate's Government Oversight and Reform committee reported out a substitute bill on a similarly unanimous 10-0 vote. State Rep. Niraj Antani, a Miamisburg Republican who is the bill's prime sponsor, said the Senate may vote on the bill today.
The bipartisan bill's other prime sponsor is state Rep. Hearcel Craig, a Columbus Democrat. Co-sponsors include Democratic Reps. Stephanie Howse, of Cleveland; Kent Smith, of Euclid; and John Rogers, of Mentor on the Lake; and Republican Reps. Tom Patton, of Strongsville; and Steve Hambley, of Brunswick.
HB 425 "can be one of the nation's best laws involving body cameras," Hetzel said in Senate testimony last month -- although he urged lawmakers to reduce the list of 17 new exceptions the bill would add to state public-records law.
Hetzel also argued the bill should be restricted to body cameras until more testimony could be heard on the implications of a House amendment that added police dashboard camera footage to the bill.
"Case law around dash cam footage is well established," Hetzel said. The inclusion of dash cams in HB 425 was unnecessary, he added, "and deserves greater discussion."
The Ohio ACLU's Gary Daniels said the bill's exemptions focused laudably on personal privacy issues, and testified to the Senate that passing HB 425 "will not only be good for Ohio, it will establish our legislature as a national leader on the best ways for state legislators to provide assistance on the use of police body cameras."
Daniels did raise one concern, noting that additional legislation would still be needed to clarify when police body cameras had to be activated - or turned off.
Senators should consider floor amendments limiting HB 425 to body-camera footage until the implications of including police dashboard camera footage in the legislation can be more fully explored. Senators should also seek to reduce the number of exceptions the bill adds to Ohio's public records law.
Overall, however, HB 425 is an excellent bill - a bipartisan Statehouse consensus that should help assure Ohioans of law-enforcement accountability.