Oregon Considers Changing Its Hate Crime Laws to Collect Better Data

Senate Bill 577 will create a hotline for hate crime victims and change the existing "intimidation" charge to a new "bias crime" charge.

Bill of the Week: Senate Bill 577

Chief Sponsors: Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland), Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), Rep. Karin Power (D-Milwaukie), Sen. James Manning Jr. (R-North Salem)

What Problem It Seeks to Solve: Critics say Oregon's hate crime laws are outdated and insufficient to hold offenders accountable and protect marginalized people. Existing law uses a statute related to a crime called "intimidation," rather than one that specifies that a racist, religious, gender or homophobic bias was the motive for a crime. Oregon law enforcement agencies statewide have struggled to collect and track data on hate crimes, because there is no standard protocol for keeping statistics.

What the Bill Would Do: The bill would change the name of the crime "intimidation" to "bias crime" to better reflect the nature of the offense. District attorneys and Oregon State Police would be required to track standardized data on hate crimes and share it with the Criminal Justice Commission. The Department of Justice would be required to create a hotline staffed by a new hate crimes coordinator to walk victims through the reporting process and connect them to services. Sponsors haven't disclosed an estimated cost—or a way to fund it.

Who Supports It: Civil rights organizations, including Unite Oregon, American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon, and CAIR-Oregon; Oregon State Police; Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore; and the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum issued a statement March 12 supporting the bill. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to the co-owner of WW's parent company.) "We don't know as much as we should be able to about hate and bias crimes," she said. "The only thing we do know is that they're consistently underreported. This leaves us with what are often terrifying anecdotes of bigotry, but no systemic sense of where hate is springing up in Oregon, or how best to fight it."

Who Opposes It: No one has submitted testimony against the bill.