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Civil rights leaders promote bills

SALEM — Civil rights leaders in Oregon came to the State Capitol on Monday to support several bills, including one designed to end racial profiling by police, and to release a report that urges greater inclusiveness of minorities as the state turns to renewable energy.

The report released by the presidents of the NAACP's four branches in Oregon said blacks suffer disproportionately from use of fossil fuels, for example by having higher rates of asthma because they tend to live in more polluted areas. Meanwhile, they are not getting their share of jobs created as the state transitions to renewable fuels.

"What we believe is that middle-class and upper-middle-class white communities are really taking advantage of this new emerging economy, and if we don't now develop a pathway for people of color, low income people, people coming back from our prisons, to be able to be trained in this new economy, once again we will be left behind," Jo Anne Hardesty, president of the NAACP's Portland branch, said at a news conference.

The branch presidents of the nation's oldest civil rights organization were distributing their report, "Just Energy Policies: Reducing Pollution and Creating Jobs," to lawmakers. The report noted that a 2010 study showed that blacks held only 1.1 percent of energy jobs in America and gained only 0.01 percent of revenue from energy sector profits.

"We are at a critical time," Hardesty wrote in the report. "We can't expect help from the federal government as the current administration is filled with Climate Change deniers. We can't depend on the state because state solutions refuse to center communities of color in policy."

One of the House bills the NAACP wants the Legislature to pass is one that would direct a state commission to develop methods for recording data concerning police-initiated pedestrian and traffic stops. This is aimed at ensuring police aren't stopping people based on racial or other profiling. The bill would also reduce the crime of personal-use drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor.

They also support a Senate bill that would ensure that grand jury proceedings are recorded on tape.

The ACLU of Oregon also supports this bill, saying in written testimony that it "is essential to the proper functioning of grand juries in Oregon and the elimination of prosecutorial misconduct in grand jury proceedings."

Hardesty said Oregon is only one of two states where grand jury testimony is not recorded but instead "is written on little pieces of notes and stuck in a file that people can't read later."

The NAACP officials also back a bill that directs the Oregon Department of Education to convene an advisory group to develop statewide ethnic studies standards for adoption in public schools, and a bill that would have the U.S. president be elected by popular vote, said Eric Richardson, president of the Eugene-Springfield branch.

Also visiting the Capitol were Benny Williams, president of the Salem-Keizer branch, and Frederick Edwards, president of the Corvallis branch.

Presidents of the four branches in Oregon of the NAACP from left, Frederick Edwards, Corvallis branch; Benny Williams, at podium Salem-Keiser branch; Jo Anne Hardesty, Portland branch; and Eric Richardson, Eugene-Springfield branch attend a news conference Monday at the state Capitol in Salem. [AP Photo/Andrew Selsky]