Local lawmaker’s bill backs more training for police as ‘sextortion’ cases gain prominence

Welcome to our legislative round-up! Twice a month, we give you an update on what Portage County lawmakers are doing in Washington and in Columbus. This round-up includes information on the various bills your representatives are voting on, as well as how they’re voting.

Rep. Gail Pavliga, R-Atwater, on Nov. 14 introduced a bill that would require the state to develop and distribute training materials about sextortion for police officers. Earlier this year, Pavliga called sextortion a crisis in Ohio.

The bill directs the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission to develop the materials but doesn’t require officers to be trained. As of Nov. 28, the bill had been referred to the Homeland Security Committee.

A number of similar measures have been enacted over the years to call officers’ attention to issues like interacting with people who have dementia or have been trafficked.

This proposed law is tied to a local tragedy. In November 2022, a Streetsboro High School senior died by suicide after being tricked into sharing explicit images and then extorted, according to media reports. Scammers who threatened to send his image to others continued to harass James Woods, 17, even after he gave scammers a $100 gift card, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

James died Nov. 19, 2022. At least three more Streetsboro students were targeted in the following months, and a federal report says financial sextortion is on the rise.

On a related note, state legislation that was championed by Pavliga, Woods’ parents and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, the Social Media Parental Notification Act, was signed into law in July as part of the state budget. It takes effect Jan. 24 and requires social media companies, such as Instagram and TikTok, to get parents’ permission before children under 16 can use the site. If a parent does not give verified consent, the company must deny access to the child.

State issues

Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, and other members of the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus hailed the passage of state Issue 1, the constitutional amendment on abortion rights, in the Nov. 7 election.

In a joint news release, Sykes chided the Republican-led legislature for its “repeated failure to listen to the people.”

“Today, reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy have won and the will of the voters must be respected,” he said.

And Senate President Matt Huffman has backed off of calls to introduce a number of anti-abortion measures in 2024, cleveland.com reports.

Issue 1 aims to protect the right to reproductive freedom, including access to contraceptives and abortion. In Portage County, 35,147 voters, about 60.9 percent, voted for the amendment, according to final results shared by the Board of Elections.

State Issue 2 fared nearly as well in Portage County, with 33,839 voters, about 58.7 percent, voting to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

While the drug technically becomes legal in Ohio 30 days after the vote – Dec. 7 – many details still need to be worked out.

Shutdown averted

On Nov. 16, President Joe Biden signed into law House Resolution 6363, the temporary spending bill that keeps the government open through early 2024.

With the continuing resolution’s passage, operations continue and government workers and military members get paid through the holidays.

The Senate passed the bill 87-11 on Nov. 15, with two not voting. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, voted yes and Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio voted no.

The bill passed 336-96 in the House on Nov. 14, with three not voting. Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, and Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Bainbridge Township, both voted yes.

Joyce, in speaking to the House in support of the continuing resolution, acknowledged that passing funding bills is not easy and that more work will be required.

“The bill before us gives us the time necessary to agree on top-line spending amounts and negotiate difficult policy choices in the final fiscal year 2024 appropriation bills,” Joyce said.

Mary Kay Quinn can be reached at [email protected].

Mary Kay Quinn
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