On their third attempt in three years, Oregon legislators today passed a bill that will lower the bar to secure motor vehicle theft convictions, returning the state's laws to the standard that existed before an appellate court decision in 2014 caused car theft to skyrocket.
House Bill 2328 passed without a single nay in either chamber of the Oregon Legislature. The bill makes it easier for prosecutors to prove that a person is guilty of stealing a car given certain types of evidence, such as discovering the person behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle while possessing burglary tools.
The most-commonly stolen cars are decades-old Hondas and Subarus, which often leave low-income Oregonians without a way to get to work or drive their kids to school.
"I have had my eye on this bill throughout the session, knowing how important it is for my constituents," Rep. Janelle Bynum said in a statement after the bill passed. "The most commonly stolen vehicles are older model sedans, which means that this bill will help households that are already facing the most economic strain."
Two prior attempts to pass similar bills failed in the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions. Hefty fiscal impact statements sank those bills.
In 2017, WW reported that Portland had the third-highest rate of motor vehicle theft of any major city in the nation. The rate had increased by 50 percent in the three years following the 2014 appellate court decision, far outpacing the growth of any other type of crime.
WW's reporting revealed that repeat thieves had developed a script to avoid being prosecuted for stealing cars. Some people had stolen more than a half-dozen vehicles without facing charges.
The growing number of stolen cars had wide-reaching impacts on the city. Victims had to pay at least $729,928 in 2017 alone to retrieve their recovered cars from private tow lots. Mayor Ted Wheeler vowed reforms to the Police Bureau's stolen vehicle directive, but the changes to towing policy have been slow-moving.
Mayors, law enforcement officials and prosecutors supported HB 2328.
""It is insane to think that suspects could completely avoid any legal consequences by simply claiming ignorance, even in the presence of overwhelming evidence that they stole the vehicles," Gresham mayor Shane Bemis said in a statement after the bill passed. "The spike in stolen vehicles put a horrible burden on our residents, often those experiencing the most economically vulnerability, who couldn't get their kids to school and make it to work on time, and who suddenly found themselves facing impound and repair fees, or the cost of a new vehicle."
Gov. Kate Brown's legal team will review the bill before she decides whether to sign it, a spokeswoman for her office says.