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Oregon hate crime laws see first update since 1980s


SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers unanimously sent the governor an overhaul of the state’s hate crime laws Wednesday, adding changes such as including “gender identity” as a protected class.

The measure is the first significant update to the state’s hate crime laws since the 1980s, and the move is meant to reflect a more modern-day Oregon by acknowledging the increase in crimes against transgender individuals and by encouraging more victim-focused responses to allegations of bias crimes.

“We know that hate crimes are increasing both locally and nationally,” said House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, a Democrat from Portland who carried the measure on the floor.

Hate crimes increased by 40% in Oregon from 2016 to 2017, according to FBI statistics, while convictions and arrests for those crimes have gone down. The number of hateful incidents is likely much higher than what the data suggests, as many local jurisdictions either didn’t submit data to the FBI or reported that zero hate crimes occurred.

The proposal strengthens definitions around crimes of bias and intimidation, providing more guidance to local jurisdictions and encouraging more accurate data collection.

Crucially, the bill also updates laws around so-called intimidation statute, which was written in 1981 and meant to address a surge of organized white supremacist gang activity.

Current law dictates that the crime of intimidation in the first degree, a felony, applies only if two or more people harm another person because of “that person’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability or national origin,” or if they cause another person to fear imminent serious injury.

But if the person motivated by prejudice acts alone, it’s only intimidation in the second degree — a misdemeanor. It’s also a misdemeanor if a person tampers with property or makes threats because of prejudice.

A glaring example is the case of Jeremy Christian, who allegedly stabbed three people — killing two of them — aboard a light-rail train in Portland in May 2017. The victims had tried to intervene as Christian spewed anti-Muslim threats at two black teenage girls.

Yet his actions weren’t classified as a felony under Oregon’s hate crime law because he acted alone.

The new measure changes the name of “intimidation crimes” to “bias crimes,” and makes it a felony to threaten or assault an individual based on their “membership in a protected class.”

Rep. Janelle Bynum, a Democrat from Clackamas and the House’s only black member, said that she becomes fearful to send her “children out in the world” when she sees news stories of hate crimes.

“Not only do you make a victim of one person, you actually victimize the entire community,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Kate Brown said the governor would sign.

News release from Oregon House Democrats:

Legislation to Strengthen Oregon’s Hate Crime Law Clears the Oregon House, Set to Become Law

Legislation strengthens hate crime laws and reporting

SALEM – Comprehensive legislation to strengthen Oregon’s hate crime statute unanimously passed the Oregon House of Representatives today.

Senate Bill 577 makes changes to the crime of intimidation, including renaming it “bias crime”, and defining a bias incident, specifically making it a crime to commit a violent offense or the immediate threat of violence based on a person’s membership in a protected class.

Additionally, the legislation requires that data collected on bias crimes and bias incidents by the Oregon State Police, district attorneys and the Department of Justice be reported to and analyzed by the Criminal Justice Commission, and it creates a Hate Crimes Response Coordinator in the Department of Justice to receive and respond to calls regarding bias crimes.

“Thanks to the work of so many groups and the people who came forward to share their experiences, Oregon is about to have among the strongest hate crimes laws in the country,” said House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson who carried the bill on the House floor. ” This bipartisan legislation is an important step forward in our state. We will have better information about when hate crimes are happening, and we will have tougher penalties for dealing with them. ”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Oregon was 11th in total hate crimes reported in the 10 days following the presidential election, a figure not adjusted for total population. Similarly, the FBI reports that Oregon’s number of hate crimes reported increased over 60% from 2015 to 16.

The legislation also adds gender identity in the category of perceived characteristics of person against whom a bias crime can be committed and it directs the Department of Justice a hate crimes hotline, monitored by the newly created Hate Crimes Response Coordinator position, for people to report incidents.

Rep. Rachel Prusak (D-West Linn) spoke on the floor about the work being done in her own community.

“Oregon’s current hate crime laws are insufficient to hold offenders accountable and supports survivors of hate crimes and bias incidents,” Rep. Prusak said. “This bill ensures that we have a culturally competent, victim-centered system to report hate crimes and bias incidents.”

Senate Bill 577 is the product of a year-long task force process led by the Oregon Department of Justice and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, that included a broad range of organizations and stakeholders. The task force traveled across Oregon and made unanimous recommendations.

The legislation now goes to Gov. Kate Brown.

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