Think Out Loud

New Oregon laws going into effect in January

By Julie Sabatier (OPB)
Jan. 1, 2022 2 p.m. Updated: Jan. 10, 2022 4:58 p.m.

Broadcast: Monday, Jan. 3

Oregon State Capitol building, May 18, 2021.

Oregon State Capitol building, May 18, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB


Starting Jan. 1, 2022, it will be illegal to discriminate against Black people for their hairstyles in Oregon workplaces and public education institutions. At the same time, several new laws meant to usher the state into a new era of policing oversight, accountability and equity will also take effect. OPB political reporter Dirk VanderHart joins us to talk about these legal changes and some other new Oregon laws.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. It is a new year, and with it, a whole new set of state laws have taken effect in Oregon. OPB political reporter Dirk VanderHart joins us now to talk just about some of them. Dirk, welcome back.

Dirk VanderHart: Hey, Dave. Happy New Year.

Miller: Happy New Year to you. Happy new laws to you as well.

Let’s start with policing, because there are a number of new laws that are going to change various things for policing statewide. House Bill 2936 is one of them. It has to do with hiring new officers. What does it say?

VanderHart: Yeah, this was known colloquially as the Background Check Bill. And you’re right, it was one of a number of bills, part of this bipartisan police reform package lawmakers passed last year. This is really aimed at ensuring that officers are not carrying over biases. What it says is that police departments need to use a common checklist provided by the state when hiring officers. That checklist includes things like a psychological evaluation, an assessment of an applicant’s feelings toward other races and cultures, even an investigation of their finances, and checking references.

The law also requires agencies to set standards for speech or expression for officers for things like social media or other ways they might express themselves online and otherwise. It needs to comply with the First Amendment obviously, but they are supposed to be setting these safeguards.

Miller: Another new law called HB 2513 was put forward by Tigard Mayor Jason Snider, who’s also a former paramedic. What does this law require of officers?

VanderHart: It requires them to get three hours of physiological training on how airways and the circulatory system work, and also to be trained in CPR. The bill also says that if officers encounter a person who is restrained, who is having trouble breathing, or potentially having heart problems while in custody, they are now required to call for an EMT, as long as that is a safe and feasible thing to do under the circumstances. Obviously, this bill can be viewed in the light of the deaths of Eric Garner in police custody, or the murder of George Floyd. But advocates say it’s just a common sense step for police to know these things.

Miller: Then there’s a new law related to policing which has to do with handling crowds, and changes there. What exactly is changing?

VanderHart: Yeah, this is kind of interesting, It’s maybe one of the more nuanced bills lawmakers passed. So essentially, the bill tweaked the language for how police respond to what they have determined is an unlawful gathering. Prior to this change, the law essentially ordered officers to go into a crowd and arrest people if they refused to disperse from an unlawful gathering. The law had words like “shall” and “must.” This bill softened that language to say that officers “may” go in and arrest people, if appropriate, removing that imperative. This bill obviously was a response to the protests, police reform protests and otherwise, that played out in Portland in 2020.

And we should note that officers did not always make arrests in those cases. They didn’t follow that imperative. I think this is largely a case of making sure the law complies with the reality of the situation on the ground.


Miller: What other new laws could affect policing in Oregon?

VanderHart: There are a lot. There was, like I said, a whole package. I think nine or ten took effect January 1st. There’s one that will allow police oversight boards to have more access to law enforcement records when they’re looking into situations of potential misconduct. Another one would increase how Oregon police agencies must report and catalog their use of force. And there’s also a bill that ensures agencies are more transparent when they discipline officers, so that the public knows that an officer has been disciplined, and a little bit about why.

Miller: Let’s turn away from policing. Senate Bill 398 makes it a crime to display a noose with intent to intimidate. What are the details?

VanderHart: This is a response to a number of incidents recently where nooses were being placed around. There was an incident in Eugene last year where a biracial couple found a noose outside of their home. And what it does is creates a new crime, essentially. It makes it a Class A misdemeanor to, as you said, display a noose on public or private property without permission, and with that intent to make someone fearful or to intimidate. Anyone caught doing that now faces potentially a year in jail, and more than $6,000 in fines.

Miller: Let’s turn to the so-called CROWN Act. It’s a new law that makes it illegal to discriminate in Oregon workplaces and public education institutions against Black people for their hairstyles. What should people know about the protections provided by this law?

VanderHart: It was inspired by some of these incidents that we’ve seen of Black people being discriminated against or treated differently because of how they wear their hair. There was an incident in Portland last year where a high school volleyball player was forced to cut her hair to remove some beads. A very high profile incident in New Jersey where a wrestler had to remove his dreadlocks before competing. This law essentially expands the state’s anti-discrimination laws to specifically protect against discrimination because of hairstyles that are typically associated with race. And as you know, it’s not just athletics. It applies to schools and the workplace as well. Lots of other states are doing this, and Oregon is just one of the latest.

Miller: There is another bill that is now law in Oregon: Senate Bill 704 is part of a nationwide movement to stop what has frequently been shorthanded as the gay or trans panic defense. What exactly does this new law do?

VanderHart: It now bars accused murderers from saying they were essentially driven momentarily crazy when they learned that their victim was gay or trans, potentially in a romantic encounter. Essentially, they could not be held culpable for their actions because they were so out of their mind by this surprise. That is not a defense that has ever been attempted in Oregon as far as we know. It has cropped up elsewhere. And so now, it’s officially been blocked here. It cannot be used in court.

Miller: Changing gears in a serious way. Another law is an effort to crack down on the widespread theft of catalytic converters, which Prius owners and plenty of other people are very aware of. This has been an issue in Oregon and around the country for a number of years now. What exactly did lawmakers do?

VanderHart: Yeah, it’s a growing issue here, I think it is only getting worse through the pandemic and all the other things we’re seeing. And that’s because thieves can sell these converters to scrap yards. They contain precious metals, they can yield some money for folks. We have seen an increase in that. They cost a ton of money to repair. So lawmakers are hoping to curb this black market for these things. What the bill does is essentially prevents scrap buyers from purchasing a catalytic converter from anyone except for a commercial seller. And when they do purchase a catalytic converter, even from a commercial seller, they need to record more information about the vehicle identification number and all sorts of other things, to hopefully be able to track where these things are from better. It will be interesting to see if it has the impact that lawmakers hope.

Miller: Finally, one last new law. Senate Bill 397 is going to make it easier for people to get their criminal records expunged. How will it work?

VanderHart: I actually think this bill flew under the radar a bit. It’s one that advocates believe can have a really big impact. And what it does is decrease the amount of time, in some cases, after a conviction that a person needs to wait to apply to have their sentence expunged, essentially to have it erased from their record for most intents and purposes. So for instance, a Class B felony, I think the law had been 20 years after a conviction, you could apply. Now it’s 7. It also reduces some costs associated with applying to have your record expunged.

This bill is really part of the whole racial equity movement that was a big deal in the 2021 session. It’s designed to help people who have been convicted of crimes move on with their lives, not have this conviction hanging over them so that they’re prevented from getting a job or securing housing, and really not encasing them with this label of convict or criminal for the rest of their lives.

Miller: Dirk, thanks very much.

VanderHart: Yeah. My pleasure as always.

Miller: Dirk VanderHart is a political reporter for OPB.

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