A bill that would ensure Oregon cities don’t criminalize homeless camping without offering people alternative places to be has cleared its first hurdle.

House Bill 3115, a priority bill for House Speaker Tina Kotek this year, passed the House of Representatives with a 36-22 vote on Thursday. It now heads to the Senate.

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The bill requires local governments around the state to adopt policies that are “objectively reasonable” in regulating when, where and how people can live outdoors, as the state’s housing crisis grows more dire. If cities enforced more restrictive measures, impacted homeless people could sue.

HB 3115 provides far less protection than an outright ban on anti-camping policies, which some lawmakers and advocates for the homeless have sought in recent years. It would instead require that local laws addressing “sitting, lying, sleeping or keeping warm and dry outdoors on public property must be objectively reasonable … with regards to persons experiencing homelessness.” The bill does not offer guidance about what “objectively reasonable” means.

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According to advocates and government representatives who developed the bill, HB 3155 is meant to ensure that cities and counties comply with a series of recent federal court rulings that governments cannot criminalize camping or issue fines if people have no other place to go.

“If a city wants to arrest you for being somewhere, they have to provide somewhere else reasonable for you to be,” said state Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, who spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor. “And that’s what it’s really all about: simply being.”

In a statement, Kotek touted the bill as part of an overarching approach to addressing the state’s housing crisis. An entire suite of bills this year is aimed at helping Oregonians remain housed. A bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday, for example, extended by eight months a grace period for tenants to pay back rent they’ve missed during the pandemic.

“Even prior to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, local governments didn’t have enough shelter space for everyone who needed it, let alone enough permanent affordable housing options,” Kotek said in a statement following the bill’s passage. “This bill is one piece of a much bigger effort to address Oregon’s housing crisis by increasing the state’s supply of affordable housing, supporting Oregonians who are experiencing homelessness, preventing evictions and foreclosures, and reducing housing disparities for communities of color.”

But Republicans disagreed with the proposal, and unsuccessfully attempted to send it back to committee in order to address their concerns.

“In its current draft, the language in HB 3115 is overbroad and unclear,” said state Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem. “Without amendments, the bill will require extensive litigation to clarify the scope.”

The House passed the bill on a near party-line vote, with two Democrats voting against, and two Republicans voting in favor.

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