Oregon Legislature Passes Package of Police Reform Bills as Special Session Ends

The bills’ passage follows weeks of demands from protesters for police accountability.

Portland riot police on June 19, 2020. (Brian Brose)

House Speaker Tina Kotek tonight gaveled out a rapid, masked special session of the Oregon Legislature that was remarkable chiefly for the quantity of police reform bills lawmakers passed.

The Legislature on Friday, June 26, passed six criminal justice reform bills during a special session that was prompted in part by weeks of protests against police brutality and calls for systemic reform to the criminal justice system.

The House and Senate today passed the following six bills championed by the People of Color Caucus:

  • House Bill 4201, which establishes the Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform to examine policies related to use of force and police accountability, and to make recommendations based on their findings.
  • House Bill 4203, which bans chokeholds except when deadly use of force is justified.
  • House Bill 4205, which requires officers to report when fellow officers have engaged in misconduct or violated policy. The bill prohibits retaliation against  officers who report misconduct.
  • House Bill 4207, which requires the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to create and maintain a statewide database that tracks suspensions and revocations of certificates. Before a law enforcement agency can hire new officers, it must review the officers’ personnel file from the previous agency for which they worked.
  • House Bill 4208, which bans tear gas, CS gas and all derivatives thereof, and also prohibits sonic weapons known as long range acoustic devices, or LRADs, which Portland police deployed once on June 5 during protests against police brutality. Lawmakers amended HB 4208 so that tear gas is permitted in situations that police declare a “riot.”
  • Senate Bill 1604, which attempts to make it easier for Oregon police agencies to discipline officers without having that discipline overturned or reduced through binding arbitration.

Legislators spiked one public safety bill for future work sessions that would have required Oregon's attorney general to investigate deadly use-of-force incidents rather than local police agencies, as The Oregonian first reported. The Oregon Department of Justice raised concerns during testimony Thursday, and lawmakers agreed to instead examine police accountability via HB 4201, which creates a committee.

State Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland), longtime champion for many of the reforms passed today, said they were only a start.

"There's a common narrative that the issues with police are nothing more than the result of 'a few bad apples,'"  Frederick said in a statement. "While the issues are certainly much larger, more complex and more serious that, we do also need to look at the bigger picture of this sentiment—the environment that allows these apples to remain, move around and spoil the others. That's why we have to address these issues at their roots. We took important steps on that path today, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. We have much work ahead."

Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley), chair of the House Committee on Judiciary, said in a statement that today was a "good day for healing, justice and accountability in Oregon."

"This work is fundamentally about raising the bar for the law enforcement profession and ending the tolerance for those who bring it dishonor," Bynum continued. "Know, though, these measures represent just a first step in the long road of reforms that our state must tackle."

Republicans also approved the results. House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) expressed support for passage of the bills in a statement released Friday night.

"Today's votes affirm that power in all forms must be accountable, limited and responsive to Oregonians," Drazan said. "As I stand with our law enforcement community and value their work to serve and protect, there are always opportunities to improve. This bipartisan legislation will bring meaningful change to policing in Oregon."

Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod (R-Stayton) sounded the sole sour note.

"This session has been a huge disappointment because we did not get the budget done, and Oregonians were locked out of the process," Girod said in a statement. "This isn't sine die because we will be back for another expensive special session that will pander to Democrat special interests."

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