February 25, 2021

Members of Multnomah County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) executive committee heard updates Monday, Feb. 8, on some of the legislative efforts underway in the Oregon Legislature related to public safety & criminal legal system reform

Members of Multnomah County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) executive committee heard updates Monday, Feb. 8, on some of the legislative efforts underway in the Oregon Legislature related to public safety and criminal legal system reform. 

While COVID-19 is still impacting the way meetings are conducted, the Legislative session is well underway. The number of bills related to the justice system and police reform, said Jeston Black, director of Multnomah County Government Relations, “outstrip anything we have ever seen in this realm.” 

Government Relations representatives from the City of Portland and Multnomah County shared with LPSCC members current legislative efforts to address issues ranging from the collection of parole and probation fees to changes in Justice Reinvestment funding. 

There’s also a new system of sub-committees including the House Subcommittee on Equitable Policing and House Subcommittee on Civil Law, Black said. Bills heard in those respective committees are then funneled to the House Judiciary Committee. 

In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee is hearing about the impacts of Measure 110, which decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of drugs and funds addiction treatment through marijuana tax revenue. 

Bills and Resolutions

“One of the biggest bills this session is House Bill 2002,” said Black. 

House Bill 2002, brought by the Partnership for Safety and Justice, Latino Network, the Coalition of Communities of Color, Central City Concern, Red Lodge Transition Services, Bridges to Change, Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the ACLU of Oregon, converts mandatory minimum sentences for specified felonies other than murder to presumptive sentences. 

It requires law enforcement officers to issue a citation in lieu of an arrest for specified crimes. An individual in need of medical attention — either physical or psychiatric —  must go to a hospital instead of jail, Black shared. The bill changes procedures around supervision related to parole and probation officers, and also redirects some of the funding from the Justice Reinvestment Program to community nonprofits working on justice reform. Read summary text for bill here

“This bill touches on a lot of different things,” said Black. “There’s going to be two conversations: one around mandatory minimums and the rest on the specifics of the bill.”

House Bill 2928, sponsored by Rep. Janelle Bynum, regulates the use of chemical incapacitants like CS gas, kinetic impact projectiles and sound devices by law enforcement agencies for the purposes of crowd control. It also prohibits law enforcement from acting in concert with any other agency or law enforcement to engage in conduct barred by statute or court order. And it eliminates immunity under Oregon tort claim act arising out of civil commotion, mob action or riot. 

During the first special session of 2020, the Legislature passed House Bill 4208a, “which prohibits the use of tear gas by a law enforcement agency for crowd control, except during riots,” shared Stacy Cowan of the City of Portland’s Office of Government Relations. The bill requires any agency to announce the intent to use tear gas during a riot; give individuals sufficient time to evacuate an area; and then again announce the intent to use tear gas immediately before use. 

House Bill 2928 further regulates the use of certain devices, Cowan continued, and creates a private right of action against law enforcement agencies for injuries resulting from devices used in violation of the provisions in the bill. The House Subcommittee on Equitable Policing is also considering an amendment that would prohibit the use of tear gas by a law enforcement agency for crowd control, unless use of force is authorized by statute — a violation would constitute a crime of official misconduct in the first degree. 

House Bill 2934, also sponsored by Rep. Janelle Bynum, aims to reform qualified immunity by increasing the cap on damages paid to victims. It would increase torts for public safety officers from $769,200 up to $5 million. The prevailing plaintiff would also be granted attorneys fees. There are other bills, similar in nature, that are also being presented. 

House Bill 2936 requires the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) to prohibit police and reserve officers from participating in white supremacist or militant groups, and overt or explicit expressions of racism. The bill also requires a law enforcement agency that obtains evidence of a law enforcement officer engaged in racist behavior to provide that evidence of the appropriate district attorney within 14 days. The measure requires DPSST to investigate the officer’s character by administering a psychiatric evaluation, requiring a racial bias and sympathy test, and an investigation of the person’s financial dealings. 

It also directs the Bureau of Labor and Industries to establish a hotline for reporting misconduct and requires the governor to convene a task force to develop a plan to remove police officers who have discriminatory sentiments that violate the rights of protected classes. 

Senate Bill 621, Cowan said, is a high priority for the City of Portland. This bill would provide a clear direction to the City of Portland to implement the citizen oversight board without first having to bargain the impacts of discipline with the union representing Portland Police Officers.  

Senate Bill 593 requires reserve officers to complete diversity training and implicit bias training through DPSST. It also requires law enforcement units to hire a psychologist who has undergone cultural competency training. Under the bill, law enforcement unit practices must reflect experiences of tribal members, communities of color, religious communities and immigrants.

Senate Bill 620 comes at the request of Multnomah County, said Black, and states that jurisdictions would not automatically be required to collect monthly supervision fees from a person on post-custody supervision. 

“It brings in line the fact that Multnomah County has stopped collecting fines and fees for people under supervision last year. It changes the statute to go from a ‘must collect those fines and fees’ to ‘may collect those fines and fees,’” said Black. “There’s a lot of discussion about eliminating the fees statewide. I think a lot of localities are seeing that this fee is no longer needed or wanted, frankly.”

House Joint Resolution 5 is a constitutional referral for the November 2022 ballot that would eliminate the requirement that people in prison engage in full-time work or on-the-job training while in custody.

House Bill 3112, the Oregon Cannabis Equity Act, leverages the economic growth of the cannabis industry to repair the disproportionate harms that cannabis laws perpetrated on communities of color. The act would invest in a program that rebuilds wealth for Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities through education, land and home ownership, small business development, healthcare and job training. It would also fix expungement laws to provide a free, automatic process to expunge records for nearly 28,000 Oregonians.  

Senate Bill 47 strengthens language stemming from House Bill 3064 from the 2019 Legislative session. “There’s a real movement this session to make sure that the limited Justice Reinvestment dollars go towards the communities that are lowering the prison populations,” said Black.

House Bill 2417 requires the Department of Human Services to administer a grant program to provide a 50 percent matching grant to cities or counties to operate mobile crisis intervention teams. This bill’s intent is to encourage jurisdictions to route emergency calls with a behavioral health component to a mobile crisis team instead of police or fire departments.  

The Budget 

In November, Gov. Kate Brown presented the 2021- 2023 biennium budget. The Ways and Means Tri-Chairs’ budget is next. 

There will also be a reduction in caseload for people supervised through community corrections due to Ballot Measure 110 — by approximately $24 million. The Department of Corrections also changed the inflation rate for community corrections funding with a 6 percent increase. And there are also a couple bills that could change who the state pays to supervise, such as misdemeanor sex offenders and misdemeanor domestic violence offenders.

“No one knows where the number [community corrections funding] is right now,” said Black. 

“But we’ve been having good conversations with the new subcommittee co-chairs around community corrections. And understanding that it's not just supervision that is funded through community corrections —but it’s housing and other support services as well,” said Black.

The Governor’s budget also includes a 10 percent reduction from the last biennium for Justice Reinvestment funding. 

“The Legislature really wants to make sure that this money is spent keeping people out of prison,” said Black. “The governor and Legislature are going to start to push for more accountability” in how the Justice Reinvestment funds are used. 

Community mental health funding that supports uninsured, underinsured or community members in crisis as well as flexible community mental health funds that support residential housing for people in crisis or with severe or persistent mental illness has also been reduced. 

The state largely calculates the amount it allocates to counties by formula. But the state hospital has stopped accepting people for civil commitments — so the caseload forecast is off, Black shared.  

“We’re having conversations with Legislators about how the civil commitment process has changed,” he said, “And talking about how people are being pushed into more local services.” 

While Ballot Measure 110 creates resources for substance use treatment, it does not provide funding for behavioral health programs. 

In a pre-Measure 110 world, we’d have $77 million for behavioral health programs but Measure 110 reduces that number to $18 million, said Black. And that’s largely because, over time, the State has been taking their general fund revenue out of behavioral health programs and using marijuana [tax] money to replace those general fund dollars, he said. General funds dollars are more often used for funding that can be federally matched. 

“We’re working with Legislators to make sure that they realize the need to backfill those behavioral health dollars with general funds going into the next biennium,” said Black.

Chair Deborah Kafoury, who serves as co-chair of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, thanked the team and asked for updates as they become available. 

“No one can afford a cut in mental health services when all of us agree, we have nowhere near enough at the moment,” said Portland City Commissioner Joanne Hardesty, who also serves as co-chair of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council.

“So without another funding mechanism we’ll be much worse off this Legislative session than we are at the moment.”