Students at memorial fence following the 1998 shooting at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon. (Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons)
The Oregon Legislature has abandoned a bill that would create the new crime of threatening a school or house of worship. In response to concerns from community organizations, the Legislature will instead convene a work group that’ll come up with a proposal to address what law enforcement says is a growing problem.
House Bill 4145 would have made threatening these sensitive locations a Class A misdemeanor, the same level as reckless driving or prostitution. Those convicted under the new law would be placed on probation and undergo a mental health evaluation.
Rep. Courtney Neron, a Wilsonville Democrat who sponsored the bill, told the House Judiciary Committee on Monday that law enforcement typically charges people who make these threats with disorderly conduct. However, she said that this charge doesn’t mandate mental health evaluation or monitoring.
“I believe we need to interrupt a path to prison with a path to treatment anytime a person is convicted of being a community threat in this way,” she said.
During the committee hearing on the bill, district attorneys and representatives from police organizations said that Oregon law didn’t anticipate this growing problem. Washington County District Attorney Kevin said that law enforcement has had to rely on a “hodgepodge” of existing laws when someone threatens a school or house of worship.
The bill was introduced at a time when Oregon is trying to reverse decades of mass incarceration. During the hearing, Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, said she was worried the bill would turn kids into felons “even when hard-headed or mentally ill.” Both the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers and the ACLU of Oregon had voiced concerns about the bill earlier.
While there is no authoritative list of attacks or threats, there have been highly publicized shootings at churches, synagogues and schools in recent years. However, there is no definitive source of data on the attacks.
Zakir Khan, the board chair for Council on American-Islamic Relations Oregon affiliate, told the committee that his organization was neutral on the legislation because there hadn’t been enough outreach to groups like his. He also pointed out the lack of data on the problem.
On Wednesday, Rep. Tawna Sanchez, the Portland Democrat who chairs the committee, announced that a work group would be formed to come up with a new bill seeking to address the problem that would be introduced in a future session.
Speaking after the hearing, Sanchez said that details about the work group were still being worked out. But she said the work group would include organizations that didn’t feel involved in crafting the previous bill. She said the work group would consider challenges in rural and urban areas among other topics.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.