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Ohio panel OKs bill to allow guns on Capitol lot

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio lawmakers and visitors to the state Capitol could leave guns in vehicles parked in the Statehouse garage, under an amendment to a bill that cleared a Senate committee Wednesday.

The Senate could vote this week on the bill, which revises Ohio's concealed weapons law. The House passed an earlier version of the legislation, but would have to sign off on any changes before the bill could be sent to the governor.

Lawmakers are hoping to wrap up their work for the two-year session by Thursday afternoon. The GOP-controlled Legislature last year passed a bill allowing owners with concealed-carry permits to take their firearms into bars and other facilities where alcohol is served, as long as they don't drink.

Under the amendment Wednesday, gun owners also could keep firearms in cars in the parking garages at a building near the Capitol that houses the governor's office and many legislators' offices.

Sen. Larry Obhof, who offered the amendment, said many Senate Republicans are gun owners who like hunting and shooting at ranges. The Medina Republican said the revision was "largely for convenience's sake" for gun owners.

A spokeswoman for the State Highway Patrol, which oversees security at the Capitol, said that under the bill, gun owners still would not be allowed to bring their weapons into the Statehouse or state-owned buildings.

And should the bill become law, patrol Lt. Anne Ralston said, "We will continue to make sure that we're providing a safe and secure environment."

The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police opposes the bill. The group's legislative counsel said an earlier draft of an amendment would have nullified policies at many universities and colleges that ban students, even those with concealed-carry permits, from bringing firearms onto campus.

Attorney John Gilchrist told the committee he read a version of an amendment that would have allowed students with a proper permit to keep a gun locked in their vehicles on campus property. Gilchrist testified that his group opposed that proposal. The wording didn't become part of the overall bill, however.

Other parts of the bill would expand how the attorney general enters into agreements with other states to allow Ohioans with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms among those states.

Currently, the attorney general must negotiate written reciprocity agreements with states. The bill would allow "automatic" reciprocity with states that offer such a provision in their law. It would work in a way similar to how states recognize out-of-state driver's licenses.

Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine supports the provision. He said in a letter to the committee that the provision could open the door to agreements with another 11 states. Ohio already has deals with 23 states.

"Expanded reciprocity of these licenses brings tourism dollars from hunting and outdoor sports particularly in Ohio," DeWine wrote.

But some law enforcement groups and others opposed to the provision fear it would permit license-holders from states with weaker training requirements to legally carry weapons in Ohio.

The bill also would eliminate a competency requirement for concealed-carry permit holders to prove they can still handle a gun when they renew their licenses.

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