The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday unanimously passed Senate Bill 327, which would restore protections to government bodies who own parks, trails and other recreational facilities.
As WW reported earlier this year, a 2016 Oregon Supreme Court decision changed the longstanding interpretation of the concept of "recreational immunity."
Under a 1971 law, the owners of private and public lands enjoyed "recreational immunity" if somebody who was using the property for free got hurt while hunting, fishing, hiking or otherwise recreating.
But the Supreme Court ruled that employees of the city of Portland Parks & Recreation Department could be held liable after a jogger was injured because one of the employees neglected to cover a hole he'd dug to fix a sprinkler in a park.
Even though the city is required to cover the employees' financial exposure, the Supreme Court ruling meant that cities were now liable for the actions of their employees on those lands.
That change jacked up insurance costs, forcing the closure of a popular climbing park in Redmond, for instance and, casting a shadow other recreational facilities, such as a new mountain bike park in Portland.
Mike Abate, the director of Portland Parks & Recreation was among many public sector officials who asked lawmakers yesterday to rein in the large new liability the Supreme Court decision imposed.
"The immunity granted to the City of Portland under the Public Use of Lands Act allows the city to make available free parks and recreational opportunities that otherwise might be cost-prohibitive," Abbate told lawmakers. "Without this legislative fix, liability would also transfer to individual volunteers, therefore potentially deeply damaging our volunteer programs."
The bill now heads to the Senate floor.