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Oregon AG cheers Senate OK of hate crimes legislation


Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum on Friday thanked the Oregon Senate for unanimously passing a comprehensive change to Oregon’s hate crimes law.

The new law will create a better response system for victims of hate crimes and bias incidents, improve the collection of hate crimes, and modernize Oregon’s “intimidation” statute, she said. The bill, SB 577, was approved late Thursday night now moves to the Oregon House.

“This bill is the culmination of a significant community effort to provide law enforcement with an updated law that gives the new tools to investigate, enforce, and combat bias crime and bias incidents in Oregon,” Rosenblum said.

“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.”

SB 577 was the result of recommendations from the Attorney General’s Hate Crimes Task Force, which was chaired by Oregon DOJ’s Legislative Director, Aaron Knott, and met over the last year. The task force consisted of policymakers, advocacy groups, religious organizations, law enforcement and others. The task force traveled the state in January and held listening sessions in Portland, Eugene and Medford to hear from Oregonians impacted by hate and bias.

Oregon’s new hate crime law will:

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.

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