The Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 to pass a bill that would revise existing law and create a new crime for negligent motor vehicle operators.
As we reported yesterday, Senate Bill 1553 would add one sentence to the list of behaviors that could result in someone charged with violating ORS 163.165. The sentence reads, “[A person commits the crime of assault in the third degree if the person:] With criminal negligence causes serious physical injury to another who is a vulnerable user of a public way by means of a motor vehicle.”
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office is pushing for this new law out of frustration over cases where someone causes serious physical injury due to their negligent driving and is able to walk away with only a traffic ticket. The new crime would come with a felony charge punishable by a maximum of 11 months in jail for the most egregious cases. The DA’s office say they anticipate most of the cases will result in probation and a restitution payment plan to the victim overseen by a parole officer. In total the law is estimated to be triggered in about 15-16 annual cases statewide.
At this morning’s committee work session there was a brief discussion from Republican Senator Kim Thatcher. Thatcher worries the new law will capture too many people undeserving of the charge. Yesterday she expressed sympathy for people who might collide with a vulnerable road user on accident. “I understand the motivation to want to nail a person to the wall,” she said, “but I also have concerns the other way.” Today she said “I still strenuously object to creating a felony and I’m not going to be supporting this.” Thatcher is also not happy that this traffic-related issue has been stuffed into a larger omnibus bill that deals with something completely unrelated (extending the statute of limitations for sex crimes).
Committee Chair Floyd Prozanski (a bicycle rider himself who passed Oregon’s safe passing law after his friend was killed on a ride) strongly supports the bill. He said the bill has “safeguards” built in to make sure it’s only triggered when specific conditions are met. Those conditions include serious physical injury to a vulnerable road user and a criminally negligent mental state by the person behind the wheel.
Now the bill will head to the Senate floor for a vote. Jeff Rhoades, a legislative liaison with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, tells us the vote is likely to take place around the middle of next week. Once it passes a full Senate vote (which is likely given its strong support in committee) it’ll head to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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