State Rep. Debbie Phillips, who represents a large portion of Athens County, was one of six Ohio Democrats who voted for the controversial House Bill 203, a piece of legislation that, among other provisions, contains a “stand your ground” clause that has been compared to the Florida law at the center of the George Zimmerman trial.
The Ohio bill would amend the state constitution and expand the circumstances under which a person has “no duty to retreat.” Whereas previously a person only had no duty to retreat on their own residence or in a personal vehicle, the new bill gives the same rights to any person in a lawful place.
Phillips does not look at the legislation as changing current state policy. Instead, she sees the bill as codifying existing case law.
“In Ohio, when people have defended themselves, they have generally not been charged with crimes,” Phillips said. “I think that everyone understands that people have a right to defend themselves.”
Another thing Phillips believes the bill does is close loopholes. For example, it prohibits anyone convicted with a domestic violence charge from obtaining a concealed carry license.
However, Phillips was not always so supportive of the bill. In a Marietta Times article from Aug. 1, she was quoted saying, “It seems like a more responsible course of action is to encourage people to call law enforcement rather than start a confrontation,” and that she believed the current law is adequate.
Phillips said that this hesitancy was the result of questions and concerns she had regarding how similar H.B. 203 was to Florida law, and that through the process of vetting the bill she learned about the differences between the two, particularly surrounding the burden of proof.
“Some laws in other states…go much further in changing the burden of proof. This does not do that,” Phillips said.
The burden of proof, or the need for someone to prove or disprove a disputed fact (in this circumstance, a person proving they acted reasonably for self defense), would not change if H.B. 203 passed. This, Phillips believes, is the main difference between Ohio (which has a higher burden of proof) and Florida law, where people only need to have “a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm” in order to have a right to self defense, according to the 2013 Florida Statutes.
“[In Ohio] you have to have a legitimate basis to believe that you are in imminent danger, that you take appropriate reaction to protect yourself…and you have to stop the use of force when the threat has ended,” Phillips said.
Another factor that went into Phillips’ decision to vote for the bill, which was introduced in the Ohio Senate on Nov. 21 and is now awaiting action, was the geographic location of her constituents.
“A lot of the rural Democrats who live in areas where people have a long-standing family tradition of hunting and living in areas where law enforcement response may be slower tend to be more concerned about those second amendment rights and people’s ability to defend themselves,” Phillips said. “A lot of local people have talked to me about the importance of the second amendment and their sense that it’s important to be able to defend themselves.”