MEDFORD, Ore. — There’s new logging controversy because of a proposed Oregon House bill that would make some forms of environmental protest a felony. Critics are saying that would be unconstitutional.
The bill targets protesters who physically obstruct logging on state lands – things like chaining yourself to a tree or equipment, or laying in the middle of the road – but critics of the proposal say that it is unconstitutional and violates freedom of speech.
As it stands, the House bill targets only physical obstruction of logging. Its supporters say that it wouldn’t prevent free speech, but it would make it a felony to block equipment or trees or tamper with equipment.
The measure is in response to protest methods that have been used since the 1980’s to stop logging. It means that protestors could be looking at up to five years in jail and $25,000 in fines, plus up to $10,000 in lawsuits for damages.
Bill Mansfield, a Medford attorney who has worked with the ACLU, says that the bill is controversial because it relates to freedom of speech. Both Mansfield and representatives of the timber industry say they doubt the law will pass as-is.
House bills face a lot of scrutiny before getting passed into law, but Mansfield also says that physical obstruction is not necessarily guaranteed by the constitution.