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AG: Oregon Senate passes bill tightening state hate crime laws

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is praising the Senate for passing a bill that would make Oregon's hate crime laws more comprehensive.

Posted: Jun 14, 2019 11:25 AM
Updated: Jun 14, 2019 11:44 AM

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Senate has passed a bill which would make the state's laws against hate crimes more comprehensive, according to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. Rosenblum has been an outspoken champion of the bill.

“This bill is the culmination of a significant community effort to provide law enforcement with an updated law that gives themnew tools to investigate, enforce, and combat bias crime and bias incidents in Oregon,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “This law will better capture bias crimes in Oregon by having stronger mechanisms in place for victims to report bias crimes and incidents that may not be a criminal act—but are rooted in bias and just as harmful to Oregonians.”

Senate Bill 577 resulted from the AG's Hate Crimes Task Force, a group of activists, policymakers, religious leaders, and law enforcement officers that toured western Oregon early this year, taking inventory of the kinds of hate crimes that people experience and developing legislation to address them.

Rosenblum and the Hate Crimes Task Force came to Medford in January for a "listening session" to help sharpen those policies.

According to Rosenblum, the new bill intends to do the following:

  • Focus on the victim. This law creates a better system to support victims of hate and bias activity by requiring law enforcement to refer victims to the Oregon Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division for assistance, safety planning and other services if their case cannot otherwise be prosecuted.
  • Improve the collection of hate crimes data. Law enforcement agencies are required to record any crime which they interpret to be a “bias crime”, but many law enforcement agencies in Oregon routinely report no hate crimes. For example, in 2018, Medford, Grants Pass, Roseburg and Bend reported zero hate crimes. This law will require far more comprehensive data collection in this area, starting with hate “incidents,” conduct which may not rise to the level of a crime, and going through the prosecution and sentencing of any crime motivated by bias. The Criminal Justice Commission will be required to work with the Oregon State Police, district attorneys and the Oregon Department of Justice to collect, interpret and publicly report on hate and bias activity in Oregon.
  • Modernize Oregon’s “Intimidation” statute. Oregon’s intimidation statute was written in 1981, and was written in response to organized supremacist gang activity. For this reason, the statute as presently written focuses on the number of participants, not the character of the underlying harm. For example, it is a felony for two individuals to apply racist graffiti but it is only a misdemeanor for one individual to physically assault another individual because of the color of their skin. This law adds violence, or the immediate threat of violence, based on a person’s membership in a protected class as a felony.
  • Clarifies that “gender identity” is a protected class. Individuals victimized for their gender identity are believed to be the fastest growing type of hate crime. This new law brings Oregon in step with many other states and adds gender identity to the list of protected classes.

SB 577 now goes on to the House of Representatives. 

Oregon has seen several high-profile cases in the past several years that have been regarded as hate crimes, including a former Oregon State University student who placed stickers with racial epithets on people's vehicles, another man who attacked a Sikh convenience store clerk, and the Portland man accused of stabbing and killing two men in a light-rail car when they stepped up to defend two Muslim women.

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