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Concealed handgun bill faces uncertainty

SALEM — A bill that would close off the records of concealed handgun license holders in Oregon easily passed the House, but its future in the Senate is again questionable.

It's the fourth time the House has passed such a bill, but each time the bill died in the Senate in the 2009 and 2011 sessions.

Sources say House Bill 4045 may be heard in a Senate committee, or an attempt may be made to pull the bill to the floor if it's not assigned to committee.

The bill is in response to a Mail Tribune lawsuit against Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters filed in 2007 after he refused to release a list of concealed handgun permit holders. In 2010, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld a Jackson County Circuit Court ruling that determined Winters had no right to deny the request because the licenses are public records.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he's not sure the bill would be heard in his committee in a short legislative session, which is scheduled to end by Feb. 29. The bill is sitting on the desk of Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. It had not been scheduled for a hearing at Monday's Judiciary Committee meeting. A spokesman for Courtney had not responded to a question about the bill.

Prozanski said he wants to hear the bill but also wants to see it changed and doesn't want restrictions on how it will move through the process.

"What I don't want is for something to come to my committee that I don't have the ability to work," he said. "I have an amendment that will take care of some of the concerns that have been raised by some people, and also stays true to what was passed in 4045, maintaining the language and just sticking it in the more appropriate statutes for public records."

However, some Republicans and Democrats in the House have said they want the records completely sealed.

"You might hear that it's sufficient, and better, to just add these as an exemption to the public records statute," said Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, who carried the bill to the House floor. "But, I want to tell you, there's a very specific reason why this bill was drafted the way it was. It is an outright prohibition of disclosure. Because even if you have an exemption in the public records law, there is no guarantee that that information will be protected."

Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, addressed the Senate president directly to urge movement of the bill.

"I'm not demanding the Senate pass the bill, but I am asking that the Senate be allowed to vote on it," Barker said. "This bill has been wandering the desert for what seems like 40 years. If I may paraphrase Moses when I ask the Senate president, rather than the pharaoh, 'Mr. President, let my bill go.' "

The bill allows release of records in three situations: a court order, the applicant agrees to disclosure and records released for law enforcement or criminal-justice purposes.

The Mail Tribune had requested the list of concealed handgun permit holders as part of its reporting on a lawsuit by Shirley Katz, a South Medford High School teacher who challenged the Medford School District's policy restricting employees from bringing weapons on campus. The paper wanted to count how many license holders were teachers who could potentially carry guns to school. It never intended to publish the names, Editor Bob Hunter has said. Katz's lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.

The House vote to close the records was 44-14. Dissenting votes included several Portland and Eugene Democrats and Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland.

Steve Lindsley is a freelance writer covering the Legislature in Salem. Reach him by email at steveoregonnews@comcast.net.