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Two federal court cases limit camping enforcement

I hear a lot about court cases that have changed the way police enforce transient campers. I’m wondering, which court cases are they and how specifically have they impacted the way police enforce illegal camping laws?

— No name given

The primary court case that’s impacted enforcement of prohibited camping is the case of Martin vs. City of Boise, Idaho, which although was first filed in the 2009 rose to prominence in the fall of 2018 after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that cities prosecuting people for sleeping on the streets when they have nowhere else to go violates the Eighth Amendment surrounding cruel and unusual punishment.

The case was back in the news again earlier this month because the city settled its case with Robert Martin and five others impacted by an ordinance that made it a crime to sleep in public, according to recent LA Times and Idaho Press reports. As terms of the settlement, the city of Boise will spend $1.3 million to on creating or rehabilitating shelter spaces, award $5,000 in damages to the homeless individuals and pay $435,000 for their attorneys’ costs.

The city of Boise had previously planned to appeal the ruling, but the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declined to hear the case in 2019.

Back in 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals ruling prompted an emotional Medford city council meeting. At the time, the City Attorney’s office stated at the time that issuing fines for prohibited camping were still within the law.

That changed last summer following another ruling involving Medford’s neighbor to the north.

In August, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke ruled in favor of Debra Blake in U.S. District Court in Medford in Blake’s lawsuit against the city of Grants Pass.

At issue was Blake’s roughly $5,000 in fines and fees related to homelessness, according to an earlier news report.

“Let us not forget that homeless individuals are citizens just as much as those fortunate enough to have a secure living space,” Clarke’s court opinion said.

In an effort to make sure state law is consistent with federal court rulings, the Oregon Legislature is currently ironing out what’s proposed as House Bill 3115, according to an earlier Associated Press report. The proposal introduced by Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek Feb. 2 would require local governments to be “objectively reasonable” when regulating sitting lying, sleeping or keeping warm and dry on public property. The proposal was referred to the House Judiciary Committee last week, and the next step is a public hearing scheduled for March 9.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501 or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.