As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have seen some of the worst bills that were introduced this session. Democrats seem to be focused on helping criminals rather than victims. Chief among the worst is SB 1511.
SB 1511 would put in place a process for convicted criminals to get out of prison, even though they were convicted legally.
A few years ago, the US Supreme Court found unconstitutional an Oregon law that allowed for criminals to be convicted through non-unanimous juries. The Supreme Court also said that this did not apply retroactively — meaning criminals who were legally convicted before the Supreme Court decision did not have a constitutional right to a retrial.
SB 1511 gives many of these legally convicted criminals a right to a retrial, despite what the Supreme Court said. Make no mistake, this bill would make it easier for hundreds, if not thousands, of criminals to get out of prison early on technicalities. It will retraumatize crime victims and their families by forcing them to again testify against their abusers and relive the worst days of their lives. As described to me by a retired DA who tried violent criminal cases including murder: "If the bill passes in its current, less horrible form we're 'only' talking about 5 to 800 rapists and murderers getting out early and having their records wiped as opposed to about 10 to 12,000 as the bill was originally drawn. If passed, SB 1511 would be the biggest disaster, by several magnitudes, of ANY bill/law I've seen in 40 years of practice."
I find this idea shameful and destructive. Given skyrocketing crime rates and the Governor already releasing record numbers from prison, we cannot afford to make our communities more dangerous by releasing rapists, murderers, and other violent criminals. The bill is currently in Ways and Means.
Other bills that will go soft on crime are:
SB 1510 – ban police from enforcing basic traffic law and also may be unconstitutional for funding racial preference programs
SB 1568 – creates an unelected, unaccountable board appointed by the Governor with the task of releasing criminals from prison
SB 1543 – makes taxpayers foot the bill for illegal immigrants' "deportation lawyers, even if they are convicted felons, like murderers and rapists
HB 4147 – turns prisons into polling places by allowing felons to vote from prison
In my last email I gave you a comprehensive list of Senate bills being considered this session. At the bottom of this email you will find House bills that are now in the Senate for consideration.
Oversight of the Governor’s Powers
Speaking of the governor releasing criminals from prison…
Under current law, Oregon is one of only three states in the nation with no oversight on the governor's clemency powers. Clemency includes commutations (releasing criminals from prison) and pardons.
I and my Republican colleagues in the Senate forced a vote on SJR 202 this week. SJR 202 would amend the Constitution (if approved by voters) to require your democratically elected members of the Senate, to approve or reject any commutation order by the governor. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats voted in lockstep to defeat the bill.
I was disappointed to see this bill not even get any debate or consideration. I will continue to oppose the governor's commutations that have let out violent murderers from prison.
Recent polling shows that only 27% of voters agree with the governor's overuse of commutations. After a year of overreach, Oregonians deserve oversight and accountability.
After every vote, senators are given an opportunity to explain why they voted the way they did. After the vote to pull SJR 202 to the floor, the Senate President reinterpreted the rule and did not allow me to give my explanation. If this is the correct interpretation of the rule, it has never been enforced in this way. (You can also watch it here). See my written explanation below:
Below are points I was interrupted from verbally expressing on the floor during "Vote Explanations" after the vote on the motion to pull SJR 202 to the floor. Vote explanations generally contain reasons given by a member as to why the member voted one way or another. These explanations are simply statements or laments as to a member's own personal reasons for voting for or against a motion. Later, after my explanation was aborted by the Senate President, I was told that a "written" Vote Explanation would be acceptable, which adds more mystery as to why the "verbal" version would be gaveled down and stopped. Maybe it's because the written ones are ultimately less likely to ever be read, while the explanations stated on the floor might get more attention.
It is a shame that we couldn't debate SJR 202 yesterday. Crime is reaching record levels and causing Oregonians today to feel more unsafe in their homes than they did just 2 years ago. That is in part due to the governor's decision to release violent criminals from prison early.
This week, public polling showed that 56% of Oregonians disapprove of the governor's decision to release violent criminals out of prison. Yet, the governor continues her plan unchecked. Oregonians don't like this kind of overreach.
This bill would have asked voters if they want their democratically-elected representatives in the Senate to represent their voices in these decisions.
Right now, Oregon is one of only three states without any check on the governor's power to release criminals from prison early. This reform would have provided robust accountability and oversight."
Giving the OHA More Power
I know government overreach has been on a lot of your minds over the past 2 years. I have gotten hundreds of emails with your concerns about OHA and the governor abusing their power.
Well, this week, Senate Democrats rammed through SB 1529. The original bill wasn't controversial, but at the last second, the Health Care Committee, gut-and-stuffed the bill to add language that would give OHA even more power.
Under the bill, the Public Health Director — an unelected bureaucrat who is an at-will employee of the OHA director — will have the power to determine a "health care emergency", a power that currently only the governor has. Democrats said the purpose of the bill was to allow the OHA to more easily deploy volunteer health care workers to hospitals experiencing staffing issues. That is all fine and good, but it's unclear to me why the Public Health Director needs emergency powers.
I do not believe we should be giving the OHA more unlimited ambiguous power after their overreach of the last two years. We should be restoring checks and balances; however, the way the bill is written gives a Public Health Director control over anything he/she deems a health emergency. It doesn’t take much imagination to see where this could go. Unfettered power without checks and balances is too easily abused. We should be restoring public trust in our public health institutions.
Senator Kim Thatcher
Senate District 13
More on House Bills:
Another one of the most contentious bills this session is HB 4002. This is a great example of good intentions leading to bad outcomes. The bill will make agricultural workers eligible for overtime compensation. This seems reasonable to a person living in the city who has no idea how a farm is run. If you have ever spent any time around a farm at harvest time, you understand why this is a bad idea. Besides increasing the cost of food on Oregonians, it will hurt the exact agricultural workers the proponents want to help. Instead of working as many hours a week as they can, employers will necessarily cap hours at 40, which will actually reduce their wages. So instead of getting paid for 60-70 hours per week during the harvest, workers will only be paid for 40. This bill is still being worked on in the House, but will soon make its way to the Senate.
Here are more House bills now in the Senate [committee highlighted] that are being considered:
HB 4012 – Human Services, Mental Health and Recovery - Directs Department of Human Services, in collaboration with Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Youth Authority, to review service provider rate structures for child caring agencies and submit report to interim committees of Legislative Assembly on or before February 28, 2023.
HB 4021 – Finance and Revenue - Extends period in which taxpayers, upon transfer of ownership of homestead or moving manufactured structure or floating home out of state, may discontinue participation in homestead property tax deferral program in assessment year.
HB 4031 – Education - Establishes state goal that percentage of diverse employees employed by Department of Education reflects percentage of diverse students in public schools.
HB 4037 – Housing and Development - Requires Oregon Department of Administrative Services to use reasonable efforts to lease certain unused or underutilized state real property owned by department to City of Salem for use as transitional housing accommodations upon certain terms.
HB 4064 – Housing and Development - Prohibits local governments from prohibiting siting of prefabricated structures in all residential zones.
HB 4066 – Veterans and Emergency Preparedness - Provides that public employer may require veteran to provide evidence of eligibility for veterans' preference in public employment at time of application for civil service position.
HB 4067 - Veterans and Emergency Preparedness - Amends law governing urban flood safety and water quality district.
HB 4071 – Human Services, Mental Health and Recovery - Modifies description of persons eligible for targeted financial incentives in field of behavioral health.
HB 4082 – Veterans and Emergency Preparedness - Directs county governing body of each county to designate person to ensure interment of unclaimed human remains of veteran or spouse, dependent or survivor of veteran.
HB 4087 – Veterans and Emergency Preparedness - Requires, on or after January 1, 2023, officials of public bodies to grant news media representatives access to scenes of wildfires or natural disasters on public lands that are otherwise closed to public.
HB 4101 - Health Care - Increases distance from certain parts of public places and places of employment within which person may not smoke, aerosolize or vaporize inhalant from 10 feet to 25 feet.
HB 4103 – Labor and Business - Increases penalty for offenses related to engaging in professional real estate activity without holding active license.
HB 4105 – Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation - Authorizes duly authorized traffic enforcement agents to review and issue citations based on photographs taken by photo red light cameras or photographs taken by photo radar cameras.
HB 4106 – Health Care - Allows person employed by health care facility to practice surgical technology if person has completed and is certified by specified apprenticeship program.
HB 4113 – Labor and Business - Adds to cancers covered by rebuttable presumption of occupational disease for eligible non-volunteer firefighters.
HB 4120 – Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation - Authorizes court to waive minimum fine in violation proceedings in certain circumstances.
HB 4121 - Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation - Authorizes presiding judge of judicial district to appoint child support referee to process or hear certain child support or parentage matters.
HB 4133 - Rules - Requires electronic voter registration system to allow qualified individual to register to vote if individual has Social Security number.
If you have any questions please email me and let me know