SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Senate on Friday unanimously passed a bill that makes it easier to uphold discipline against police by lessening the power of arbitrators.
The measure, which moves to the House, is one in a package of police reform measures before Oregon lawmakers during the special session that began this week. It passed the upper chamber following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed and died last month after a white Minneapolis police officer held a knee to his neck.
“This bill is a problem solving effort,” Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, said on the Senate floor. “It is an effort to create trust, fairness and transparency in government. This bill goes hand in hand in the procedural justice movement in 21st century policing and restorative justice commitments that have been made to our constituents.”
Currently, police unions can call upon an arbitrator to review discipline handed down to a police officer and overturn disciplinary decisions. Arbitrators have reversed high-profile officer dismissals in Oregon before.
Senate Bill 1604 restricts what arbitrators can do in disciplinary cases and binds them to rule within the discipline guide.
“The non-binding nature of agreed upon discipline guides, and the complete lack thereof, is a policy failure that we now have the opportunity to remedy,” Frederick said.
This is the third time the bill has passed in Senate, but during the two previous times, it came to a halt in the House of Representatives.
Lawmakers will discuss and vote on other reform bills throughout Friday, including restricting the use of chokeholds, creating a statewide online database of discipline records and requiring officers to intervene and report a fellow officer engaged in misconduct.
News release from the Senate Majority Office;
Oregon Senate Approves Critical Legislation
to Improve Police Accountability
SALEM – Today, the Oregon Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1604. This legislation is one of six police accountability measures led by the People of Color Caucus, which Democrats have made a key focus of this Special Legislative Session. This bill will provide clear and consistent expectations for law enforcement officers around the consequences of misconduct, ensuring accountability for officers and taking a step forward to improve public trust.
Law enforcement officers are public employees currently governed by the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) which allows bargaining units and employees to agree to specific procedures to address a complaint or grievance, which often includes arbitration.
Currently, if a police officer has been found to have committed misconduct, the department will make its discipline decision and the officer may then appeal that decision and go to binding arbitration. If the arbitrator determines a lesser discipline than the department, it overturns the department’s decision. This inconsistency presents legal challenges and confusion. It has also put the public at risk.
SB 1604 addresses the incongruency between these processes by requiring the disciplinary action taken by an arbitrator remain consistent with that of the agency if the police department and union have agreed to a discipline guide or matrix in the collective bargaining process and they have also found that an officer engaged in misconduct.
Senator Lew Frederick (D-Northeast Portland) has worked on this policy for years. A version of this bill has passed the Oregon State Senate in the last two Legislative Sessions with bipartisan support. As the tragedy of police violence and racism has led to a national uprising, this legislation is broadly considered long overdue.
“This bill, simply, is about police accountability. It is about ensuring a level of confidence in our law enforcement, both from the public and within the agencies themselves,” said Senator Frederick. “Senate Bill 1604 goes hand in hand with the restorative justice commitments each of us have made to our constituents. It is clearer than ever that serious work is needed to improve trust and credibility in our law enforcement. When officers are not held accountable due to an inconsistent process, we directly work against building that trust.”
Senate Bill 1604 requires a law enforcement agency to include the creation of a discipline matrix or guide to considerations during collective bargaining, which would ensure the ramifications for misconduct are clear, consistent and transparent.
“This bill is a start and it’s an important start. We have more work to do and I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to continue to address law enforcement accountability and improve justice for all Oregonians,” said Senator Frederick.
During his closing on the Senate Floor, Senator Frederick referred to Lift Every Voice and Sing as a point of inspiration throughout his years of work. He shared the following lyrics:
“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won.”
Senate Bill 1604 now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote on the House Floor.