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Nearly $2 million may be spent to increase security at Ohio Statehouse

Nearly $2 million may be spent to improve security at the Ohio Statehouse which currently leaves its doors open during normal business hours, allowing lawmakers, lobbyists and visitors including hundreds of schoolchildren to freely enter and leave the building under the watch of the State Highway Patrol.

The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board plans to spend $1.9 million to purchase hand-held metal detection wands, cameras and other equipment to increase security. The security procedures are recommended by a Ohio Homeland Security study proposed by Gov. John Kasich and commissioned by the General Assembly last year.

>> Read the security recommendations >>

The board reviewed the study in an executive session and adopted several recommendations from it in an April meeting. The study has not been made public under an exemption for security and infrastructure records.

The recommendations call for only four entrances to be open at the Statehouse during regular business hours, each staffed with state troopers using metal detection wands. Each entrance would include two security cameras, a small television and a telephone. Actual procedures for who and when to screen were not part of the recommendations.

Board member Sen. Michael Skindell, D-Lakewood, said the changes are reasonable and strike a balance between safety and access. Skindell said he was concerned during security discussions about the public being able to feel comfortable entering the Statehouse. He said buildings in Washington, D.C., have added metal detectors, X-ray machines and other measures that can be intimidating.

“I don’t want Columbus to be like that — I want people to enjoy it here,” Skindell said.

Skindell didn’t think the new security measures would have much impact on large rallies such as the ones in 2011 around Senate Bill 5, which would have curtailed collective bargaining. Thousands filled the rotunda to support or oppose the bill as lawmakers debated its merits.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the idea for the study was not a response to a specific concern or event. Nichols said he remembers a reporter asking Kasich whether Ohio agencies were safe after Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs in 2011 and if any actions were being taken to elevate security levels.

The study was inserted in a massive budgetary bill last year, and $1.2 million toward increased security was added into the state budget bill now in the hands of lawmakers making final changes before sending it to Kasich for his signature. Capitol Square Board member Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, offered the amendment but did not agree to requests for an interview.

Morgan Cullen of the National Conference of State Legislatures said states tend to reevaluate security procedures after specific incidents that occur at or near state government buildings. Texas lawmakers called for such a review in 2010 after a man fired shots on the capitol steps in Austin moments after visiting the office of a state senator, and has since added metal detectors. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, prompted many state legislatures to tighten security.

Metal detectors are used in 23 states, according to the NCSL, which collects some data from state legislatures on the types of security used. Most state capitols open between two or three entrances to the public; Ohio and fewer than 10 other states allow people to enter through more than six entrances.

Fewer than a handful of states allow lawmakers and citizens to bring weapons inside capitols. Last year, Ohio lawmakers approved bringing firearms into the parking garages underneath the Statehouse and Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, which houses offices of the governor and state representatives.

Spokeswoman Lt. Anne Ralston said highway patrol troopers and officers are on the clock 24/7 protecting the Statehouse and other government buildings and they’re always looking for ways to improve security.

“We’re constantly reviewing and evaluating the security we provide at Capital Square, whether or not there was some sort of law that says a security assessment is needed,” Ralston said.

Ralston declined to give further details about security provided by the highway patrol but said they would comply with guidelines set by the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board.

Skindell praised the highway patrol, noting officers often greet and give directions to visitors.

“I like it here,” Skindell said. “Someone can just walk into the building and come and knock on my door.”

Capital Square security recommendations

  • There will be four doors open for the public and Ohio Statehouse staff to enter during business hours. One door will be open on weekends.
  • Each entry will have an Ohio Highway Patrol officer at all times while the doors are unlocked, have two security cameras, TV monitor and phone and be equipped with two hand-held security metal wand scanners, a small table and a ballistic desk or podium.
  • Signs will be posted that briefcases and carry-in packages are subject to be inspected.
  • Special entry passes will be furnished to authorized lobbyists at a cost of the pass card.
  • All contractors who work at Capitol Square will be given a contractor pass card that must be displayed in clear view when on site. These cards are to be picked up and returned daily.

 Source: Capital Square Review and Advisory Board

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