OR legislature passes bill closing gun sale background checks ‘loophole’
Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-District 4) and Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland), chief sponsors of SB 941, attended a press conference to discuss the bill’s passage.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-District 4) and Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland), chief sponsors of SB 941, attended a press conference to discuss the bill’s passage.
Before he was elected to the Oregon statehouse, Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, spent 29 years as an officer and lieutenant with the Oregon State Police.
During those years, particularly during his time in Klamath Falls and Cottage Grove, he says, Olson saw children affected when their parents were arrested for criminal offenses.
“You wished we could have had a track in place to have helped and kept families together. There’s consequences with committing crimes, but you have to ask yourself is there some means we can break the cycle?” he says.
Olson is now the Republican co-sponsor of a House bill that creates a separate track for offenders who are parents with custody of their children.
The bill gives judges the discretion to sentence eligible parents facing prison sentences of a year or more to 24 months of probation instead. It also gives the Department of Corrections the ability to reduce sentences by six months for some parents who are already serving time.
“It’s focused on children, and keeping the family together,” Williamson says. “I know that is a bipartisan issue.”
The representatives say the bill builds on work they did last session shortening some prison sentences slightly in an effort to slow the growth of Oregon’s prison population. Williamson and Olson say their new proposal could improve outcomes for families and save the state more money by reducing the amount of women in prison and avoiding the costs associated with placing the children of inmates in foster care.
To be eligible, offenders would have to show that they had physical custody of their child at the time of their offense, and had never been convicted of a violent crime or sex crime.
Courts could impose conditions including electronic surveillance, drug and alcohol treatment, and parenting classes.
The bill is modeled on a program in Washington state, called the Parenting Sentencing Alternative, that gives judges and the Department of Corrections the ability to waive or shorten sentences for some non-violent offenders. They are allowed to return home to parent, supervised by the Department of Corrections and state social workers. In Washington, 237 parents have successfully finished the program.
Williamson and Olson say the bill they’ve introduced is a placeholder; they will flesh out their proposal in an April 15 work session.
The representatives are meeting with county officials to identify what kind of social work and wraparound services the state would need to provide to make the sentencing alternative work. They want to test the family sentencing alternative as a pilot program in three counties first, and Multnomah and Marion counties have expressed interest.
About 200 women in state prison are from Multnomah County, and roughly half of them are parents who could be eligible for the program, according to testimony the county submitted in support of the draft bill.
Susie Leavell manages the Parenting Sentencing Alternative program in Washington. Level says she has heard particularly powerful feedback on the program from the teachers of children whose parents are given an alternative sentence.
“When mom returns home, they see an improvement around hygiene, being on time to school, their homework is being turned in and they are meeting their grade level expectations,” Leavell says.
Leavell also says the program is saving Washington money, though she can’t say exactly how much. According to Leavell, it costs roughly $31 a day to supervise an offender in the community in Washington, compared to $91 a day for incarcerated inmates.
The program has helped prevent sending 44 children to foster care in Washington, and 8 children have come out of foster care and returned to their parents.
“Some of those kinds of savings are harder to measure than your black and white savings in terms of daily costs,” Leavell says.
About two out of three offenders who have participated in the program have successfully completed it. Leavell says of the 237 who completed the program, 22 have been re-arrested and 16, or 7 percent, have returned to prison on a new felony.
The general return to prison rate, or recidivism rate, in Washington is 29 percent.
Rep. Jennifer Williamson
State Representative, District 36
For Immediate Release
February 16, 2015
Bipartisan Coalition Proposes Legislation to Increase Privacy Protections in Digital Age
Salem, Oregon – Senator Chip Shields (D-Portland), Senator Tim Knopp (R-Bend), Representative John Huffman (R-The Dalles), and Representative Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) introduced a package of bills to update Oregon’s lagging privacy laws and bring them in-line with the modern digital age. The bills are the result of a bi-partisan, bi-cameral effort along with the ACLU of Oregon to develop a package of common sense and privacy protection proposals for the 2015 session.
“As technology and surveillance capabilities advance at whirlwind speeds, laws protecting Oregonians’ right to privacy have failed to keep up,” says David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon.
“Data that used to take rooms full of file cabinets to store can now be carried around on an ultra slim laptop or pulled down from the cloud on a smart phone,” says Rep. Williamson. “These advances have prompted critical, privacy-related questions that we as lawmakers can no longer afford to ignore.”
The proposed legislation includes a requirement that law enforcement obtain a warrant prior to accessing certain electronic communications and cell phone location information, as well as data stored on a cell phone itself. The coalition reached out to law enforcement groups while creating this legislation and incorporated numerous law enforcement suggestions.
“The increasing use of mass data collection and surveillance technology poses very real threats to our privacy and constitutional rights,” says Sen. Knopp. “We look forward to working with both law enforcement and privacy advocates to pass legislation that responsibly balances privacy and public safety.”
Additional proposals would create consistent statewide guidelines for the use of automatic license plate readers by law enforcement and a new legislative oversight committee to track and make recommendations regarding government surveillance technology.
“State legislatures across the country have either passed or are currently considering legislation to address the collection, aggregation, and dissemination of information about ordinary citizens,” says Sen. Shields. “It is critical that our online activities receive the same protections as our offline activities.”
“Surveillance technology is advancing so quickly that this conversation is already overdue,” says Rep. Huffman. “Along with a broad group of stakeholders, we look forward to addressing this complex, but incredibly important issue during the 2015 session.”
Links to the privacy bills:
For more information, contact Rep. Williamson’s office at 503-986-1436 or Rep.JenniferWilliamson@state.or.us
SALEM — The House approved changes Monday in the way Oregon handles class-action lawsuits.
In the session’s first major vote, lawmakers passed House Bill 2700, which would send unclaimed damage awards to the state’s legal aid services instead of back to the company that was sued.
Democrats say the change would hold losing companies in class-action lawsuits accountable and ensure that victims are justly compensated.
“I’m outraged that defendants who hurt Oregonians must keep that money,” Jennifer Williamson, a Portland Democrat and a chief sponsor of the bill, said in her floor speech.
Republicans, however, disagree with a provision that would alter the way courts identify claim holders and how the law would apply to lawsuits already under way.
“We should not replace a system that has served us well for decades with an untested new system unlike other states’,” said House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte.
The proposed reforms were the subject of contentious debate in the 2014 legislative session. A similar bill passed the House but was derailed in the Senate when Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, sided with Republicans against the bill.
That probably won’t be an issue this time, with Democrats having gained two more Senate seats in last November’s election. Class-action reform is one of a few big-ticket items — automatic voter registration and extending the clean-fuel standard are also on the list — that should sail into calmer waters this session.
“When we heard this bill in the judiciary committee, it was Groundhog Day,” Williamson said. “By the end of today, I have a feeling it will feel like Groundhog Day again.”
— Ian K. Kullgren
Law might have protected woman who called for help in Sunriver marijuana gummies case
A proposed law that would grant immunity to people who seek medical help for someone having an adverse reaction to drugs likely would have applied in the case of a Seattle woman who was cited for marijuana possession in Sunriver after her friend had a bad reaction to marijuana gummies this week.
A 51-year-old woman gave her 37-year-old friend berry-shaped candies that were infused with marijuana. The woman knowingly ate the candies, then had an adverse reaction after eating three. Both women were from Washington, where pot is legal for recreational consumption.
The older woman called 911 early Monday from Sunriver Resort and was subsequently charged with possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. A bill filed in the Oregon Legislature by Portland Rep. Jennifer Williamson likely would have protected the woman from charges.
“We want to take all the barriers away from somebody seeking medical help who is in trouble and actively overdosing,” she said.
The immunity law would apply in cases in which the person who called for help possessed illegal drugs, whether pot or a highly addictive opiate. The immunity would apply in cases where the person who called was on parole or probation.
A similar law protecting underage drinkers who seek help took effect in Oregon on Jan. 1.
“This is, I think, the natural outgrowth of that. Especially (when) marijuana becomes legal, because we’ll have underagers using marijuana as well,” Williamson said.
Sunriver Police Chief Marc Mills told The Bulletin his department used discretion when deciding to cite the 51-year-old woman.
Police could have cited the younger woman with possession as well but decided not to, Mills said.
He said he supports Williamson’s idea, but, “The law is currently the law. Nobody is telling us to ignore it. As long as the law is in place, we will enforce it.”
Mills said he wasn’t seeking the attention the case has gathered, but he does welcome the conversations that are occurring before possession of an ounce in public and a half-pound at home becomes legal July 1 in Oregon.
Oregon’s rural and urban communities are split on how to approach marijuana until then. The Bulletin found four district attorneys would drop all pending and future marijuana-related cases. Eleven said they’d continue to enforce. Many said prosecuting pot wasn’t a top priority.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said he’d address it on a case-by-case basis, joining seven other district attorneys. This case will likely come across Hummel’s desk next week, he said.
Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, pointed to the incident when she promised a cautious approach to marijuana-infused edibles, which will become legal under the law passed in November.
Burdick will co-chair the Joint Committee on Ballot Measure 91 Implementation when lawmakers convene Feb. 2. She said Thursday she wasn’t willing to allow edibles to become legal until lawmakers tinker with packaging and labeling requirements in the law to avoid incidents similar to the one in Sunriver and to keep them out of kids’ mouths.
“On the other side of the equation, there are people who rely on medical marijuana who can’t smoke or don’t want to smoke who need some form of edible form,” Burdick said.
Burdick said she hadn’t read Williamson’s bill but said the concept sounded like one she would support.
As committee co-chair, Burdick will be one of the most influential lawmakers this session regarding the new marijuana law.
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,
By Jeff Kruse and Jennifer Williamson
For The Register-Guard
Americans may have heard more about grand juries in the last 30 days than in the last 30 years.
In the wake of the recent Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions, we’ve been reminded by the media that grand jury proceedings are secret — unless a judge orders that a transcript of the testimony be made public.
We’ve been told that grand juries determine whether criminal charges, often subject to mandatory minimum sentences, should be brought against an accused person.
But here’s something that many Oregonians may not know: We are one of only three states in the nation that still rely on handwritten notes created by a grand juror instead of a verbatim recording of the grand jury proceedings.
Transparency in government is the Oregon way. We record and stream online every committee hearing of the Oregon Legislature. Every word uttered on the floor of the Oregon House and Senate is recorded for any citizen to review. Similarly, our courtrooms have recording devices, cameras and/or stenographers to document everything that happens in each and every trial. Our criminal statutes require mutual pretrial exchange of discovery between the accused and the state of each parties’ evidence and witnesses.
We should be proud of all that. But when it comes to accuracy and transparency in grand jury proceedings, Oregon is failing.
We still rely on nonverbatim handwritten “minutes” of grand jury sworn testimony taken by one of the jurors. These notes can be inaccurate, incomplete, hard to read or just plain wrong. Then if a witness’s testimony before the grand jury is called into question, a former grand juror must be hauled back into court to read the notes, often resulting in a delay in the proceedings and an inexact account of what actually was said under oath.
We’ve all been reminded in the last few weeks that grand juries have a lot of power.
The lack of accurate record-keeping and verbatim recordings of grand juries means that we risk distrust in our criminal justice system and further erosion of public confidence in the grand jury system right here in Oregon.
Without an ability for the parties — and, when appropriate, the public — to see an accurate record of grand jury proceedings, high-profile controversial cases can become more highly charged.
The Legislature has a responsibility to solve this problem. That’s why we are introducing a bill in this year’s legislative session to update Oregon’s criminal statutes to align with the federal system and most other states by mandating a verbatim record of all grand jury proceedings.
This simple but important change will allow us to protect citizens’ rights and increase trust in our criminal justice system. Mandating verbatim recordings of grand juries is the national norm for a reason: It guards against abuse and ensures that the rights of the accused and crime victims are fully protected. Liberals and conservatives can agree that we all lose when we allow government to exercise its power in secrecy, with no transparency, oversight or accountability.
The confidentiality of grand juries will always be protected, and Oregon will still require a judicial order to release verbatim recordings under special circumstances. But secrecy is not — and never should be — a cloak for abuse of power. The secrecy of grand juries exists to protect defendants, witnesses, victims and the accused, whose innocence must be presumed until guilt is established. Secrecy is not an excuse for inaccuracy or incomplete records. Secrecy does not exist to provide a shield from accountability.
Inaccuracy in recording the sworn testimony of grand jury witnesses leads to distrust in our criminal justice proceedings, fosters an environment for abuse, and could lead to unjust prosecutions or failure to bring guilty offenders to justice. Oregonians deserve better than that. That’s why we need to update our law.
Source: The Register Guard