COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – County and municipal governments will be off the hook for legal action over police activity at hospitals after Gov. Mike DeWine signed a new bill into law Tuesday.
Senate Bill 56 — sponsored by Sen. Louis W. Blessing — wanted to give public authorities like city governments more power in negotiating contracts with architectural design firms. It allows those governing bodies to require design firms to indemnify them against legal action from a third party. It also gave those design firms the right to indemnify themselves if they hired a subcontractor to provide design services.
SB56 saw a similar symptom that impacted other bills during the Ohio Legislature’s end-of-year sessions. Though their original purposes remained intact, the bills saw amendments that take further action on related and sometimes unrelated issues. The sponsoring senator noted this when he presented the updated bill before the government body for approval.
“This bill sought to deal with the overly broad indemnity clauses,” Blessing said on the Ohio Senate floor. “A lot of engineering companies found it difficult to procure insurance to work on public projects. That had broad bipartisan support, but this bill picked up a couple of amendments over in the House.”
While not quite as “unrecognizable” as a poultry chick sales bill that also now labels natural gas as “green energy,” Blessing saw his bill return to the Senate with two different amendments. One of them guaranteed drivers insurance coverage if a law enforcement officer crashes into their car, and navigated opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police as well as local chiefs. House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Bill Seitz explained the reasoning for the addition.
“Under current law, you get no relief, because the city is sovereign immune, the cops are sovereign immune … ‘You weren’t hit by an uninsured motorist, you were hit by an immune motorist,'” Seitz said. “We are now going to require [uninsured motorist] coverage for those situations.”
The other amendment that still dealt with law enforcement liability, however, did not see any mention from Seitz to his colleagues. It also saw no objections, according to Blessing.
“The first amendment deals with granting municipalities and counties civil and criminal immunity from actions arising from hospital police officers if it occurred while they were on duty and it occurred within the premises of the hospital and, or the municipality or county,” Blessing said. “That amendment is good, it’s still in the bill.”
A recent example of where the amended bill could apply is a 2021 shooting at Mt. Carmel St. Ann’s hospital. Medics brought a patient Miles Jackson there, who police found had warrants for his arrest and a gun in his pants. The ensuing incident saw St. Ann’s security personnel and Columbus police fire their weapons, killing Jackson.
If Jackson’s family found grounds to file a civil lawsuit, they could not name the city of Westerville or Franklin County as defendants in the case under the new law. Additionally, while a Franklin County grand jury voted not to criminally charge St. Ann’s security or Columbus Division of Police officers, they also would not get the option to indict the Westerville or Franklin County governing bodies either.
The bill passed the House 78-4 in favor, and then passed the Senate with 30 yes votes and no objections. Neither Blessing nor his office responded to emails or phone calls on Wednesday requesting comment on the legislation, now signed into law by the governor.