Gov. Kate Brown's signature is all that is required to classify the display of a noose — the symbol of lynching Blacks — as a crime of intimidation in Oregon.
The House passed Senate Bill 398 without amendment on a 54-0 vote on Tuesday, June 1. The display would be a Class A misdemeanor if intended to intimidate a person or threaten someone with bodily harm. Maximum penalties are one year in jail and a $6,250 fine.
The bill was drafted to specify "fear of imminent bodily harm" as the basis for intimidation to avert any potential conflicts with Oregon's constitutional guarantee of free expression.
"It is an opportunity for us as legislators to stand in solidarity with our most vulnerable communities," Rep, Ricki Ruiz, a Democrat from Gresham and the bill's floor manager, said.
"While many of us can comprehend the intensity of fear, pain and suffering that accompanies nooses for Black Oregonians, we will take the steps necessary to make our state a welcoming place for all its people."
Ruiz is one of a record nine representatives of color, and 12 members overall, in the current Legislature.
Rep. Susan McLain, D-Forest Grove, is white. But she has a biracial daughter who encountered a noose. "She still does not go into the front yard because she was intimidated and she was in fear. These things cannot go on," McLain said. "We have to acknowledge our past, but we have to change our present. We must make a future that is better than what we have been."
The Senate passed the bill on April 1.
Though the House vote was 54-0, three Republican representatives failed to respond when they did not use the electronic system to record their votes and the presiding officer, Speaker pro tem Paul Holvey of Eugene, called their names aloud three times in compliance with House rules.
They were Mike Nearman, who lives outside of Independence; Werner Reschke of Klamath Falls, and Boomer Wright of Reedsport. They were classified as "absent." Only three representatives were officially excused from the vote.
It was unclear via video available to the public whether any of them were within the bar of the House chamber and on the House floor. If they were outside the bar, they could not vote.
House Rule 3.20 says: "Each member within the House chamber … when the question is pending, and the member's name is called, shall vote. No member shall be allowed to abstain from voting."
The rule was changed after an incident in 2007, when then-Rep. John Lim, R-Gresham, declined to vote on a proposed cigarette tax increase to pay for children's health care despite repeated requests over a couple of hours from then-House Speaker Jeff Merkley. Lim's refusal to vote violated the rules — he was within the chamber — but there was no penalty.
Because there was a formal call of the House — a motion that compels attendance by members unless excused — no one could enter or leave the chamber until the vote was concluded.
Legislators eventually referred an increase to voters, who rejected it later in 2007 after a multimillion-dollar campaign against it led by tobacco companies. The health care program came into existence in 2009 — Lim lost his seat in 2008, and Merkley was elected to the U.S. Senate — but was funded a different way.
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