People convicted of a bias crime committed on publicly owned recreation land or state waters in Oregon could soon be barred from re-entering state recreation lands and waters for up to five years.
Senate Bill 289 comes at the request of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s office, and directs the courts to add bias crime convictions under certain situations where the court would order the state fish and wildlife commission to revoke licenses, permits and tags from those convicted, as well as exclude them from entry.
The purpose of the bill is to protect and encourage Oregonians of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and others to feel safe enjoying outdoor recreational opportunities in Oregon.
The bill comes to the House floor out of its judiciary committee this week following a heinous assault two weeks ago on a pair of brothers at Glenn Otto Park in Troutdale. Investigators say roughly a dozen young men attacked the brothers after yelling anti-gay slurs at them.
The House judiciary committee heard testimony last week from members of the public with firsthand and secondary experience of their peers being the target of bias and hate crimes while recreating in Oregon.
Clara Soh, a board member and treasurer of environmental advocacy group Oregon Wild, told lawmakers that a friend of hers — who is a person of color — and her children were recently followed and harassed by a group of white men while hiking along the Deschutes River.
“Another Black climbing partner of mine recalled being followed by a group of armed white men last year who pointedly told him that they were going ‘black bear hunting,’ something that could only be interpreted as a veiled threat, considering their hunting season had already ended,” Soh said. “For some people, these incidents are theoretical things that we hear and read about in the media. But these are things that are happening to myself, and my personal friends.”
Soh said that she’s currently living on the road in a van and often climbs at Smith Rock State Park. She told lawmakers that this past year was the first time she’s felt unsafe while living on the road as the rise of anti-Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) rhetoric and bias crimes continues.
SB 289 has widespread support from agencies such as the Oregon State Police, whose superintendent Terri Davie wrote a letter in February expressing that “ensuring equitable access for all to the beauty of Oregon supports the well-being of all Oregonians and visitors.”
Shannon Hurn, deputy director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told lawmakers in a letter that recent events have illustrated the real concerns people have about their safety in the outdoors, and how greater emphasis is needed on providing people with equitable access to enjoy outdoor recreation free of harassment, physical violence and conflict.
“The loss of an individual’s access to hold a license to harvest wildlife has shown to be a deterrent in preventing future criminal acts against wildlife and violation of wildlife laws,” Hurn wrote. “The intention behind SB 289 is to deter people from acts of hate perpetrated against their fellow outdoor enthusiasts. The hope is [this bill] acts as a further deterrent, affording everyone the right to experience Oregon’s natural environment, without fear of harassment or violence.”
On Tuesday, the House judiciary committee, led by Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, unanimously passed the bill onto the floor with a “do pass” recommendation. The bill will be carried by Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, who volunteered to usher the bill through the House in light of the recent events at Glenn Otto Park and its effect on Oregon’s LGBTQ+ community.