SALEM — After hearing emotional comments from several lawmakers, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill Friday that will see grand jury testimony recorded for the first time in the state, a move to increase transparency in the justice system.
The House approved the bill Friday by a 34-26 vote, three days after the Senate passed it. Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign the bill.
The legislation requires grand juries to use audio electronic recording devices. Currently, grand jury notes are handwritten, and often incomplete and unreliable.
"At a time when much of the country is taking action to make the criminal justice system fairer to all, Oregon remains mired by an outmoded practice, and stands as a relic, and a reminder, of an unjust past," said House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, a Democrat from Portland.
Before the vote on the expected last day of the 2017 legislative session, Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, stood up and told his colleagues he would try not to get emotional as he described the death in February of 17-year-old Quanice Hayes. Hayes, who was black, was unarmed and on his knees when he was shot three times by a police officer. A grand jury decided not to criminally charge the officer.
Hernandez said shootings like that have undermined the faith among people of color in their justice system, and that recordings of grand juries would help restore that confidence. Multnomah County, which surrounds Portland where the shooting occurred, is the only county in Oregon where grand jury proceedings involving police shootings are recorded.
Jodi Hack, a Republican from Salem, tearfully asked her colleagues to vote no on the bill, saying that having audio recordings of victims describing their ordeals possibly being later listened to by the defendant would add even more trauma for the victims.
At least one lawmaker acknowledged that the issue was important, and suggested lawmakers vote no while thinking it through more during a later legislative session.
Williamson responded that legislation of this nature has been in the works for some 35 years. She also said Hack's concern was addressed in the measure, which says a defense attorney may not provide a copy of the audio recording, notes or a transcript of the recording to the defendant.
However, when the defendant is not represented by an attorney, he may request that the court allow a review of the audio recording or the notes of the shorthand reporter. The prosecutor may then ask the court to appoint defense counsel for the limited purpose of checking the audio recording or notes, and set "reasonable conditions" for their review.
Implementation of recordings begins with Deschutes, Multnomah, and Jackson counties on March 1, 2018. All other counties will begin recording on July 1, 2019.