Ohio House, Senate pass bill that takes aim at fake emergencies, school shooting hoaxes

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Ohio lawmakers have sent a bill to the governor that could increase penalties against people who call in a fake emergency in order to spark a large response from law enforcement.

Rep. Kevin Miller (R-Newark) on the House floor to support HB462 during lame-duck session on December 15, 2022.
Rep. Kevin Miller (R-Newark) on the House floor to support HB462 during lame-duck session on December 15, 2022. [Andy Chow | Statehouse News Bureau]
Swatting — when someone reports a fake emergency to incite panic — has become more popular through social media trends.

The bipartisan bill, HB462, would prohibit swatting by making it a criminal offense. On its own, swatting would be a fourth-degree felony. That charge would get bumped up to a second-degree felony if someone is seriously injured in the response.

“These penalty penalties are appropriate for the seriousness of the offense and will serve as a deterrent for those who contemplate perpetrating such a reckless hoax,” said Rep. Kevin Miller (R-Newark), a sponsor of the bill.

Miller added that the bill would also allow a court to order an offender to cover the cost of the hoax.

“Not only are these incidents extremely dangerous, these incidents also waste a tremendous amount of taxpayer resources,” Miller said.

The bill received support from most members in the House and Senate. However, some groups did voice concern over the language in committee.

Niki Clum, legislative policy manager for the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, noted that the state already has several laws in statute that address swatting — such as inducing panic, making a false alarm, felonious assault, involuntary manslaughter.

“And there’s a lot of problems when you start just slightly changing the words in statutes and creating overlapping statutes,” said Clum.

Swatting received renewed interest over the summer when a fake school shooting was reported at eight Ohio schools.

The fake reports happened in September and it sparked a large response from law enforcement and first responders around the state.

The bill is now headed to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature or veto.