Cities and counties would have to specify why they are restricting camping or loitering, based on "objectively reasonable" factors of time, place or manner, under a bill that has cleared the Oregon House.
A 36-22 vote on Thursday, April 15, sent House Bill 3115 to the state Senate.
The bill sets in place a 2018 decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Oregon, against an anti-camping ordinance in Boise, Idaho. The court ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional because homeless people often were left with no other options. The Supreme Court declined to hear Boise's appeal, and Boise settled the 12-year-old lawsuit in February.
"I believe that penalizing houseless individuals, simply because they do not have a nonpublic place to exist, is not in the public interest," Rep. Karin Power, a Democrat from Milwaukie and the bill's floor manager, said.
"A community decides for itself what is reasonable, based on a host of factors, including availability of resources, affordable housing, emergency shelters, safety services and harm mitigation."
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, is the bill's chief sponsor.
Cities and counties would have until July 1, 2023, to make sure their ordinances comply.
Kotek said in earlier testimony to the House Judiciary Committee:
"Let me be clear: local governments should be following the federal ruling regarding enforcement against people experiencing homelessness right now.
"My hope is that local governments that have not yet reckoned with the Boise decision will take the opportunity to engage in a transparent, public process to update their ordinances, find ways to expand their shelter capacity, and make the rules clear for all."
Republicans mounted an effort to have the Rules Committee amend the bill to include the state, but it failed mostly along party lines.
"The Oregon Law Center looks forward to participating in robust discussions in communities across the state to advocate for local policies that best protect our clients," Becky Straus, a staff attorney for the center, said in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee. "This work is a narrow but import point on the spectrum of critical discussions and solutions to address housing instability and homelessness."
Although the bill emerged from negotiations between the Oregon Law Center and some local governments, not all of them signed onto it.
Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem, said Marion County and the city of Salem raised questions about several aspects, among them the definition of public property and who has standing to sue, although the bill bars courts from awarding monetary damages.
"Without amendments, the bill will require extensive litigation to clarify its scope," she said during the floor debate.
Medford city councilors have passed an ordinance that bars camping within the Bear Creek Greenway and a city park during fire season. The ordinance takes effect May 1, although a lawsuit is threatened. The Almeda fire, one of Oregon's Labor Day wildfires that destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Talent and Phoenix south of Medford, started near the greenway by the dog park in Ashland.
Two Democrats, Paul Evans of Monmouth and Mark Meek of Oregon City, joined most Republicans to oppose it. Two Republicans, Ron Noble of McMinnville and Jack Zika of Redmond, joined most Democrats to support it.
Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan and the Metropolitan Mayors Consortium, in separate statements to the Judiciary Committee on March 9, offered qualified support for the bill.
Ryan: "We would like to see a narrower definition for 'public property' to ensure that local jurisdictions can place reasonable restrictions of the use of public space, specifically as It relates to environmentally sensitive land and structures like tents on sidewalks. It is important that HB 3115 does not end up as an unfunded mandate on local jurisdictions. Additionally, it is important that this legislation not be a conduit for endless litigation against local jurisdictions."
The consortium, which represents about two dozen Portland area mayors, said:
"The mayors agree that 'objectively reasonable' is different from city to city, allowing our communities and leaders to craft ordinances that work best for our cities. As mayors, it is our responsibility to ensure our law enforcement officers are provided the appropriate guidance to humanely and compassionately assist our homeless population who has nowhere else to go but the streets. HB 3115 helps with that."
Don Mazziotti, president of Frontline Services PDX, said the bill is a necessary step. But it does not by itself create shelters or services for those who need them.
"We support this bill," he said in committee testimony. "But we see a number of weaknesses when considering the realities of our most vulnerable on the street — a population which few work for or with, but with medical, mental health and substance abuse disorders."
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