By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog
MORE EQUAL: Does a new bill in the state mean that some Ohioans are more equal than others?
Is Ohio becoming its own version of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” where some are more equal than others?
It might seem that way when examining the language of House Bill 471.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, would increase the penalties for identity theft if the victim was a member of a “protected class.”
The penalty for identity theft in Ohio starts out as a first-degree misdemeanor, increasing in severity based upon the amount of money stolen. But if the theft is from a “protected class,” the penalties start with a felony and the threshold for escalating the severity is much less.
So “regular” citizens can have 10 times the money stolen from them before the crime becomes the most severe in the state. How, exactly, does that equate to “equal protection under the law” as enshrined in the 14th Amendment?
From Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute:
“The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. In other words, the laws of a state must treat an individual in the same manner as others in similar conditions and circumstances.”
Wouldn’t everyone who has their identity stolen be in similar conditions and circumstances?
So just who makes up this “protected class?” People over 65, disabled adults and, if the bill passes, members of the military and their spouses.
Most people will agree that stealing from seniors, the disabled and military families is pretty low, but should politicians set them apart?
Should we add spouses of seniors or guardians of disabled adults to the protected class? What about single moms or the unemployed? Isn’t it equally heinous to steal from them?
This is not to say our military personnel don’t deserve the utmost protection and respect, but I suspect many of them would agree they don’t need anything more than their fellow citizens when it comes to being the victims of crime.
Besides, where would it stop? At what point would common sense say the victim’s race, gender, age, profession, marital status or sexual orientation should make no difference in the way the law is written?
If it’s a first-degree felony to steal more than $150,000 through identity theft from the spouse of a military member, shouldn’t it be a first-degree felony to steal more than $150,000 through identity theft from anyone?
Ohio Watchdog wanted to ask Dovilla these questions, but he didn’t respond to our request for an interview.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine likes the law.
“Military service members protect our country day in and day out, and it’s unforgivable that anyone would commit such crimes against these brave men and women and their spouses,” DeWine said in a statement.
“Identity fraud against the military is increasing in our state. This newly introduced bill would give Ohio one of the toughest laws in the country with respect to punishing felons who commit identity fraud against our active-duty service members,” he added.
What about the other Ohioans? Don’t they, too, deserve to have one of the toughest laws in the country with respect to punishing felons who commit identity fraud?
People may think this law is well-intended, but it could encourage criminals to steal from ordinary citizens because they can steal more for lesser penalties.
Surely that’s not the message politicians want to send.
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