Anyone caught using a noose as a form of intimidation will now face potential criminal consequences, under a bill headed to Gov. Kate Brown.
On Tuesday, the Oregon House passed Senate Bill 398 by a vote of 54-0.
The bill creates a new crime in Oregon: intimidation by display of a noose. Under the law, it would be a class A misdemeanor to place a noose in public or private property without permission, with the intent of causing intimidation or fear of harm. Violators could face nearly a year in jail, and up to $6,250 in fines.
“In order to fully understand Senate Bill 398, we must truly understand the reality of our nation’s past, and the tools of intimidation used to sow fear and panic in communities of color,” said state Rep. Ricki Ruiz, D-Gresham, who carried the bill on the House floor. “A noose is a symbol that has also been used as a threat of violence and triggers a lot of trauma, to our [Black, Indigenous and people of color] communities.”
In a year when the Legislature has been focused on racial equity, SB 398 cleared both chambers by wide margins. Those votes were informed, in part, by recent examples of nooses being used to intimidate people of color in Oregon. That includes a February incident where a biracial couple in Eugene awoke to find a noose lying on their trash can, and at least two examples of nooses being hung in public places in Portland.
State Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, told colleagues Tuesday that her daughter, who is biracial, once found a noose placed in a tree in front of her parked car.
“These things cannot go on,” McLain said. “We have to acknowledge our past, but we have to change our present, and we must make a future that’s better than what we’ve been.”
Though it saw huge support, SB 398 has also spurred some controversy. In the Senate, two prominent members of the state’s Republican Party, Sens. Dallas Heard, R-Myrtle Creek, and Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, did not vote yes on the bill. Linthicum, the treasurer of the Oregon GOP, opposed it on technical grounds, while Heard, the state party chair, left the chamber and did not cast a vote. The move angered Democrats and prompted worries among Republicans that Heard and Linthicum’s position could be misconstrued as the state Republican position.
In the House, no one opposed the bill, but three Republican members — Reps. Mike Nearman, E. Werner Reschke, and Boomer Wright — did not cast votes and were marked absent. Three other members were excused.