The Oregon Capitol building in Salem. Photo: Chas Hundley

The Oregon Legislature in the current legislative session is considering several bills related to crime and policing, including one that would establish a commission to compensate people who have been wrongfully convicted.

Here are just a few bills worth keeping an eye on.

Senate Bill 603, sponsored by Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland), calls for the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission (OCJC) to create an Innocence Commission to investigate claims of prosecutorial misconduct, find and examine evidence that would clear someone of guilt or blame, and oversee reconciliation hearings following the discovery and proof of a wrongful conviction.  

The bill currently sits in the Senate Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation Committee. For the uninitiated, Ballot Measure 110, approved by voters in the 2020 November general election, decriminalized as of Feb. 1 possession of most illegal drugs in small amounts equivalent to what a drug user typically might have on his or her person.  

The OCJC would be required to submit the findings of its study to the Legislative Assembly no later than December 31, 2021. The commission would then be disbanded on January 2, 2022. 

Senate Bill 422 aims to eliminate, in all juvenile criminal convictions, fees and costs, including fines, the cost of a court-appointed attorney, electronic monitoring, probation and detention fees, and parental support obligations for youth offenders or young people in state custody. 

House District 30 Rep. Janeen Sollman (D-Hillsboro) is a co-sponsor of the bill along with Sen. James Manning (D-Eugene). Sollman told the Eugene Register-Guard that 90 percent to 99 percent of juveniles who are prosecuted cannot afford the related court and probation fees.

Amy Miller, executive director of Youth Rights and Justice, an Oregon-based nonprofit whose mission is to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families through legal representation and advocacy in the courts, legislature, schools, and community, wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation Committee. 

Miller’s letter, which says Youth Rights and Justice represents 1,200 Oregon children and parents from low-income families each year with about 45 percent of those being people of color, said the juvenile justice system creates consequences for youths and their families that can last a lifetime, especially those experiencing financial hardship and people of color. 

“The cost of collecting juvenile fees is increasing while the revenue generated is decreasing,” Miller wrote. “Circuit courts assess far more in fees than they collect each year. For example, in 2019 circuit courts imposed approximately $260,000 in juvenile administrative fees and collected just under $61,000 (sic). 

“Elimination of juvenile fees will help youth and their families find financial stability,” the letter continues. “Too often, the inability to pay pushes youth deeper into the juvenile justice system and exacerbates the family’s economic distress. There are significant consequences for failure to pay, ranging from collections, garnishment, and civil judgments to extending detention or probation.”

Senate Bill 201 allows police to convict a person of driving while under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) if he or she has a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or more within two hours after driving a motor vehicle. 

The bill also would create what’s known as an “affirmative defense” for someone charged with DUII. An affirmative defense allows a defendant or person responding to a criminal or civil case to present new evidence that would prove him or her to be not guilty, even when the facts supporting the charge or claim are true.

The bill also would charge anyone who is arrested under suspicion of DUII with a felony if it is a driver’s third conviction within 10 years — even if one or more DUII convictions occurred in another jurisdiction — and a court could impose a maximum fine of $10,000. Once charged with felony DUII a mandatory minimum incarceration term of 90 days will be implemented without reduction for any reason. 

SB 201 would take effect immediately upon signing by Governor Kate Brown. 

Senate Bill 418, sponsored by Sen. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale) and Rep. Jeff Reardon (D-Happy Valley), would change the way law enforcement officers are allowed to engage with juveniles. 

The bill says that a peace officer, conducting an interview with a person less than 18 years old in connection with an investigation of an act that would constitute a crime if it was committed by an adult, may not use trickery, deceit, artifice, or any other misleading interrogation technique during the interview.  

House Bill 2930, sponsored by Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas), would establish a Commission on Statewide Law Enforcement Standards of Conduct and Discipline to adopt uniform standards of police conduct and disciplinary actions.

The commission would consist of 11 members. The future director of the proposed Department of Safety Standards and Training, and Oregon’s Attorney General, will appoint the remaining nine members of the board with no more than three members being law enforcement officers. 

The bill also would repeal an Oregon law that allows police to call any type of protest an unlawful assembly, and to use force in the form of rubber bullets and tear gas, even when violence is not occurring.

Observers long have said the state statute violates citizens’ first amendment right to peacefully assemble. The Oregon ACLU said the law is unconstitutional, and declaring even peaceful assemblies unlawful often is the first sign of impending police violence.

Bynum introduced the bill in light of last summer’s protests over Minneapolis police officers killing George Floyd, a  46-year-old black man, which sparked weeks of protests in Portland and others across the U.S. 

Law enforcement officials throughout Oregon are against the bill, saying it would prevent them from stopping a situation before it became violent or rampant with criminal activity. 

HB 2930 currently sits in the House Subcommittee on Equitable Policing, which Bynum chairs.