COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Republican lawmaker who drafted the training curriculum that schools would have to follow to allow teachers in Ohio to carry guns owns a gun training business that seemingly fits all the required steps in the bill.
Ohio schools could start arming any staff member as soon as mid-fall, but the training requirement has raised concerns about the involvement of a specific senator.
Although he denies any wrongdoing, state Sen. Frank Hoagland, a Republican from Mingo Junction, is being accused by critics of drafting the bill so his business could benefit financially.
Hoagland helped with the rewrite of House Bill 99, which allows any school board in Ohio to choose to arm school staff members with up to 24 hours of training.
The senator owns a business called S.T.A.R.T., which represents Special Tactics and Rescue Training. It is a firearm training and threat management business.
While the bill was being heard in the Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee, hundreds came to oppose the bill. Throughout the entire hearing process, more than 350 people submitted testimony against the bill, while about 19 testified in favor.
One of those who testified in support was Dinero Ciardelli, the CEO of S.T.A.R.T. He did not identify himself as being with the company, but he did not legally have to. Hoagland just so happens to be the Chair of the Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee, so he watched his colleague testify in favor of his bill.
After being asked by News 5 Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau if his business would be directly benefited by the bill since his business seems to follow the draft requirements his bill has in place, the Republican responded he "absolutely" wouldn't be.
His recent financial disclosures showed he brings in up to $100,000 annually from his company.
"There certainly are valid concerns about any legislator voting on or advocating some measure that will give the legislator or somebody close to the legislator a financial benefit," Jonathan Entin, Case Western Reserve University law professor, said.
Lawmakers are not allowed to vote on a piece of legislation when they are an employee of or have a relationship with a "legislative agent" or the employer who is actively advocating that legislation, according to the constitutional expert, citing Section 102.031 of the Ohio Revised Code.
"Now, if you parse that language, it's not entirely clear that this provision actually applies in the situation," Entin said.
Republicans told News 5 that Hoagland's role in the bill is in the clear.
"We proactively asked the Legislative Inspector General's office to review for any potential conflict and there were none," John Fortney, Senate GOP spokesperson, said. "Unfortunately, the dishonest narrative from the left continues to put politics above student safety."
The Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, which evaluates conflicts of interests in the General Assembly, is prohibited by law to confirm or deny Fortney's statement.
However, Entin said the law isn't that straightforward.
"It is written in somewhat ambiguous terms," he said. "That means that if somebody wants to make an issue of any particular legislator casting a vote where the legislator might have a financial interest — well, then there's going to be room for debate and for some kind of authoritative interpretation."
There are guardrails to potential conflict of interests, including — if there is a specific direct benefit, such as the bill stating that schools must go to a particular training program that is owned by a legislator — that would be a problem, a spokesperson for the committee told News 5.
"Whether that's legal or not is separate from whether the optics are good," Entin added.
If Ohio is going to arm teachers, people should want them to have at least decent training, the lawyer added.
"It might be that even if the company does benefit, this still might be a wise policy change," Entin said, referring to the original bill that didn't have a lawmaker involved who actually had years of experience with firearms. "But there's still the question, does this look good?"
As of right now, Entin said there may not be a legal issue, but he and the ethics committee state that there could be an issue down the line.
"Every case is going to turn on the fact that I don't know enough about this specific situation to say, but you're the reporter, you're chasing this down," he added to Trau. "All I mean to say is that there is a good reason for you to be checking this out."
Ohio law prohibits public officials from using their influence to secure public contracts and Hoagland's business explicitly states on its website that it helps schools manage active shooter threats, including firearm training.
"Our emphasis is to protect schoolchildren, so we train teachers on how to respond to an inside or outside threat," the website said as of Friday evening.
When News 5 asked the lawmaker about this, he denied it.
"No, my business is not providing training to school businesses or schools."
Along with the direct statement to "protect schoolchildren" on the site, the business shows a school gymnasium with children on the "Counter Active Shooter Training" page.
When pressed about money the senator could receive from this program, he dismissed the question.
"Young lady," the senator responded to News 5 Journalist Morgan Trau, "I don't know what money you're talking about."
I asked Sen. Frank Hoagland if his business will be benefited by HB 99, since he owns a training school. He said no, but wouldn’t elaborate.— Morgan Trau (@MorganTrau) June 13, 2022
When pressed, he called me “young lady.” I’ve never heard a male reporter called a “young man” when asking an important question. @WEWS https://t.co/HPBr3ChxIO pic.twitter.com/l1GOe9bWGB