Hate Crime Reform Bill Progress Stalled

Democrats have seemingly benched a bill that would have strengthened Oregon’s hate crime laws and reporting systems, which was supported by a number of civil rights groups, the state’s attorney general, and many of their own members.  

Emails reviewed by Willamette Week showed that Senate Bill 577 is “stalling out” in the budget process, and is not on a list of bills set to receive funding in 2019.  

The Oregon branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent an open letter to the chairs of the joint Ways & Means committee, Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis), Rep. Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward (D-), and Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), saying they were “confounded” that the bill wasn’t a “top priority.” 

SB 577 would change the crime of “intimidation” to “bias crime,” add gender identity as a motive for attack, upgrade certain misdemeanor crimes to felonies, and direct the state Justice Department to study enforcement of the new laws and how data on hate crimes is being collected.  

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum testified to the legislature in March that underreporting of hate crimes in Oregon is a serious problem. She said that in 2017, a large number of cities in Oregon reported zero collective hate crimes, while Eugene alone reported 72. Rosenblum said this did not mean Eugene was in the midst of a crisis compared to other cities, but that these numbers reflect the city’s efforts to improve hate crime reporting. She believes similar efforts should be taken statewide. 

As the legislative session draws to a close at the end of June and Republicans continue to engage in new and increasingly arcane obstruction tactics, Democrats may be winnowing down the list of achievements they consider possible by the end of the month. 

By Ian MacRonald