CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A new bill would unmask protesters if it becomes state law.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones and two state lawmakers want to make it illegal for people to conceal their faces with a mask or disguise to obstruct the law, rights of others or a person's a "legal duty."
Jones said Friday he is scheduled to testify May 15 at the House of Representatives in Columbus in support of House Bill 423.
The new law would create a new misdemeanor crime of "masked intimidation."
Jones helped craft the legislation with two Tri-State lawmakers primarily sponsoring it: State Reps. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) and George Lang (R-West Chester Township).
"The aim of the bill is to give police one more de-escalation tool to use in these cases while preserving freedom to protest, masked or unmasked," Seitz said.
The sheriff said he was prompted to reach out to Seitz and Lang for help after the protests at University of California, Berkeley, and clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia over the past year.
Jones said he saw a young lady giving a live television interview at a protest attacked without provocation when men in masks sprayed her face with mace.
"These thugs came up and Maced her and took off and though it was funny as hell," the sheriff recalled.
"It's disgusting. It's vile. People are emboldened when they wear masks," he said. "They are cowards. I'd like them to be in a room with me trying to assault me."
Alabama, Massachusetts, Michigan and New York have similar laws.
Several states including Ohio passed older "anti-mask" laws in response to Klu Klux Klan violence decades ago, making it illegal for anyone to get together with another person to "commit a misdemeanor while wearing caps, masks or other disguise."
House Bill 423 is co-sponsored by five other lawmakers: State Reps. John Becker (R-Union Township); Keith Faber (R-Celina); Doug Green (R-Mt. Orab); Craig Riedel (R-Defiance) and Ron Young R-Leroy Township).
Some, however, say the legislation is unnecessary and without basis.
"Most protests around the country including those with people who might wear masks or hoods or anything like that, the vast majority of these actions are not violent and most are responding to violence," said Brian Taylor, an organizer of Black Lives Matter Cincinnati.
"There is a climate in this country as more and more people take to the streets to demand justice on number of different front there is an attempt by those who represent the state to limit and curtail democratic rights and it's on every level.
"So you have people like the sheriff who clearly are a voice of reaction with his anti-immigration stances, all the way up to the federal government, where the FBI wants to try to make protesters who fight against police brutality and call them terrorists," Taylor said.
"This measure is propaganda aimed at cutting down democratic rights, intimidating people from being able to express themselves as they protest and it's an entree to even more restrictive measures.
"You start with hoods. Next, it's masks. We're dead opposed."