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Local officials weigh in on restorative justice bill

Senate Bill 1510 is an update of last year’s House Bill 2002

A bill that would bring back portions of a restorative justice proposal floated last year is being vetted by legislative committees in Salem.

HB 2002 was a wide-ranging plan introduced last year that would have overhauled Oregon’s criminal justice system. It was considered a way to address structural and systemic racism, according to the Partnership for Safety and Justice.

The bill didn’t make it out of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means before the end of the 2021 legislative session.

Senate Bill 1510, introduced this session, would require police officers to inform people about the right to refuse to provide consent for a police search. Officers would also have to document the person’s consent for a search either in writing or in an audio or video recording.

Police would no longer be able to conduct traffic stops solely for specific traffic violations, such as a malfunctioning tail light, headlight, brake light or a noncompliant vehicle registration plate. These would be considered secondary offenses for which officers could write citations along with any other violation or crime that prompted the vehicle stop.

It would also allow some people on parole or probation not to receive visits at their workplace from their parole or probation officers, and would provide the option of remote reporting to authorities by some of people.

“Again, I question the reasonableness of our legislators using the short session and their limited resources on something that will have no positive impact on the state of Oregon or public safety,” Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said in a written response to an inquiry about SB 1510 by the Mail Tribune last week.

Sickler noted that he has concerns about the traffic violation changes proposed in the bill.

“I think it will impact our ability as law enforcement to keep the roads safe, to deter criminal activity, and will have a negative impact on our overall safety in the community,” he said. “While it doesn't seem like a big deal, I do think it will be as we move forward.”

Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said SB 1510 is more workable than HB 2002, but she’s not sure whether it would “ensure safety to minorities.”

Heckert is concerned that public safety might be taking a back seat with the proposed traffic stop changes because officers no longer would be able stop someone for having a headlight or tail light out.

“The newest amendments did clarify that if the vehicle has one working headlight or tail light, that is when police cannot have that be the basis for the stop,” Heckert noted. “That is an improvement over the original drafts.”

Another of Heckert’s concerns is whether an officer’s audio or video equipment failure would result in suppressed evidence.

And, “it may make some consent searches be inadmissible,” she said. “However, I find that police adapt to what the legal standard is.”

Sickler said SB 1510’s proposed traffic stop consent would work with current sheriff’s office policy pertaining to video camera use by deputies, because that equipment is on already.

Heckert anticipates that if SB 1510 becomes law, it would be a good idea to examine whether it affects the number of searches police are given permission to conduct after the law is in effect for a period of time.

SB 1510 was scheduled for discussion this week among members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation and the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety.

State Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation, opposes the bill.

“Tying law enforcements’ hands in situations where other motorists’ safety is being threatened is reckless and dangerous public policy,” he said in a press release.

Linthicum asserts that SB 1510 could potentially violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by promoting racial equity and reducing racial disparities.

A correspondence to Linthicum from the Legislative Counsel Committee considers whether that portion of SB 1510 violates the U.S. or Oregon constitutions. The committee concluded there are legal concerns and questions that don’t have answers yet, including how a grant program would be “interpreted and implemented.”

Section 15 of the bill would create the Justice Reinvestment Equity Program and distribute subgrants to “culturally specific organizations” and “culturally responsive service providers.” The two terms “could be interpreted as a proxy for a specific racial group, and the program could provide grant funds to an organization based on that organization’s explicit categorization of persons it has served or will serve based on race,” the release stated.

To be successful, the Legislative Council Committee determined, any court challenge to the program would have to provide “some evidentiary showing of actual discrimination.”

The 2022 Oregon legislative session ends May 27.

Reach reporter Terri Harber at tharber@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.