Portland Sit-Lie Bill Dies in State Senate Committee

Mayor Charlie Hales' plan to fight downtown panhandling just lost its biggest weapon: a bill allowing Portland to revive the controversial sit-lie law has died in an Oregon Senate committee.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) tells WW that the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, will not hold any further hearings this year on House Bill 2963, which would allow cities to make their own rules on sidewalk use.

"It didn't have the necessary votes to go forward," Prozanski says. He also questions whether the state needs to pass laws that only apply to Portland. 

The Portland Business Alliance pushed the bill through the state House as a first step in combating street kids belligerently panhandling downtown. 

"Obviously, we're disappointed," says PBA spokeswoman Megan Doern. "We have this roadblock, and we'll see what we can do to work around it."

Hales, who hinted during the mayoral campaign he would support a sit-lie revival, has pledged that one of his top priorities this year would be "dealing effectively and humanely with the epidemic of panhandling and homelessness."

Then-Mayor Tom Potter pushed through a city ordinance in 2007 that outlawed sitting or lying on the sidewalk from 7 am to 9 pm. A judge later ruled the sit-lie ordinance violated the Oregon Constitution and conflicted with state laws.

Former Mayor Sam Adams decided to let the battle die; Portland's current rules require keeping a clear path for walking on the sidewalk, but no other restrictions.

The bill has strong opposition inside City Hall as well. In a Wednesday editorial urging the Senate to keep sit-lie alive, The Oregonian revealed that City Commissioner Amanda Fritz wrote Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) a letter from her home computer expressing her concerns about cracking down on panhandlers.

Doern says the PBA will keep pressing City Hall to find a way to combat street kids harassing shoppers.

"We're going into our peak travel season, where we see an influx of this 'road warrior' population," Doern says. "We need to have a conversation with City Council and service providers about livability downtown."