Oregon legislative panel starts hearing policing bills
Five lawmakers on an Oregon House subcommittee will focus on the state’s policing practices and the people who carry them out.
They have started public hearings on more than a dozen bills, some of them overlapping, that propose various changes to Oregon laws in the aftermath of last year’s death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and the nationwide protests it triggered.
One hearing on two bills is scheduled Monday.
The subcommittee chair is Rep. Janelle Bynum, a Democrat from Clackamas who also leads the full House Judiciary Committee. Her District 51 straddles Multnomah and Clackamas counties.
Bynum, while canvassing her district in 2018, was reported as a “suspicious person” to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. She is Black.
Bynum said in opening the subcommittee’s work Jan. 25 that, while there is a need for a strong law enforcement presence, “that is not the only way to keep the peace.”
“I believe that our communities need some healing and an update to our laws so that everyone can live and breathe freely,” she added. “That is the perspective I am bringing to this committee — a sense of fairness, a sense of balance and an opportunity to fix things that have been neglected for a long time — and make sure that all of us feel safer in our communities.”
Bynum was the House co-leader of a joint interim committee that produced half a dozen bills lawmakers passed during a special session June 24-26. But the committee conceded in its final report that more work needs to be done.
While several bills now before the subcommittee emerged from the interim committee, the committee never voted on its final report because it was unable to meet in person in December due to the pandemic. The Legislature’s lawyers advised lawmakers that the Oregon Constitution and House rules bar remote voting, unless the governor invokes a “catastrophic disaster” provision that has never been used since voters approved it in 2012.
The two Republican members of the subcommittee are former police chiefs in small communities.
Rep. Ron Noble of McMinnville was police chief from 2006 to 2014, and was with Corvallis police for 18 years before that. He also was on the joint interim committee. Part of his District 24 goes into Washington County.
“I am looking always to ensure the highest professionalism of the people that the Legislature asks to do their bidding to ensure a safe society,” Noble said in his opening statement.
Rep. Rick Lewis of Silverton was police chief from 1988 until his retirement in 2012. He was elected mayor in 2014 and appointed to the House seat in 2017. He also has been chief in Union and Bandon, and worked in Umatilla. Part of his District 18 goes into Clackamas County.
“I want to ensure that what we do is workable, not only for law enforcement, but also addresses the concerns of our citizens,” he said.
Lewis also sat on the interim committee.
The other Democrats on the subcommittee are Maxine Dexter of Portland, a physician with Kaiser Permanente — she represents District 33 in Northwest Portland and part of Washington County — and Marty Wilde of Eugene, a lawyer who has spent 25 years with the Oregon National Guard, both Army and Air, with overseas service.
All legislative panels are taking testimony virtually or in writing because the Capitol has been closed to the public since March 18, 2020, at the start of the pandemic. They are not expected to amend or advance bills until the midpoint of the session in April, when they will start meeting in person.
Below is a list of the bills and bill concepts laid out at a subcommittee meeting Jan. 25. Some bills have been drafted by the legislative counsel and carry LC numbers, but have not been officially introduced in the House; others have been drafted by outside groups. Contents of proposals in the latter categories are public; go to the subcommittee website for the full texts.
Bills (All filed by Rep. Bynum except House Bill 2306):
- House Bill 2306 (Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth): Requires police agencies to set up boards to review policies annually and report to the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.
- House Bill 2928: Generally bars police use of tear gas or other chemical irritants, rubber bullets and sound cannons, except where police can justify physical use of force (proposed amended version).
- House Bill 2929: Requires police to report misconduct by police involving “unjustified or excessive force,” discrimination, sexual harassment or misconduct, a crime, or violations of minimum standards. Also requires investigation of such reports. Database to be maintained by the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
- House Bill 2930: Limits arbitrators’ decisions about alleged misconduct by police. Creates a commission on statewide law enforcement conduct and discipline.
- House Bill 2931: Requires an arresting officer to provide for a medical assessment of someone who is arrested. The assessment can be by a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner.
- House Bill 2932: Directs Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to set up a statewide database on use of force incidents.
- House Bill 2936: Requires Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to investigate the character of officer and reserve candidates before they are accepted for training at the state public safety academy in Salem. Also bars “racist behaviors” by police.
Bill concepts (these will be assigned new numbers when officially introduced in the House):
- LC 743: Specifies that police uniforms must be blue; black is reserved for members of special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams and correctional emergency response teams. Undercover officers are excepted.
- LC 748 (Oregon Innocence Project and Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association): Requires a state database to contain any complaint filed against any public safety employee, whether or not it resulted in disciplinary proceedings, and the status of and findings related to the complaint. A state database is maintained by the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training of suspensions and revocations of the certifications of officers.
- LC 748: Requires police to report specified disciplinary actions to the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.
- LC 751: Creates a task force on statewide law enforcement disciplinary standards.
- LC 769: Creates a commission on statewide public employee standards on conduct and discipline.
- LC 3177: Bars disclosure of booking photos to publish-for-pay publications.
- LC 3178: Allows civil lawsuits against police agencies for improper disclosure of personal information of people who file complaints against police.
- Concept, no LC number: Uniforms of police in crowd management must bear name, agency identification, and “police,” “sheriff” or “trooper” on jackets or other outerwear.