The 2017 Oregon legislative session is well underway. Votes have already taken place and bills are moving up and dying off as I type this.
I’ve combed through hundreds of bills to find ones that matter to people who care about transportation safety and the culture of our streets. Since there are so many bills I want to bring to your attention, I’ve decided to do this in two parts. First I’ll share a list of the Senate bills I’m following. Then in a separate post, I’ll share the House bills.
Here we go…
Senate Bill 2
Summary: “Defines “mobile electronic device.” Increases penalty for offense. Punishes by maximum of one year’s imprisonment, $6,250 fine, or both. Further increases penalty for multiple violations within 10 years. Punishes by maximum of five years’ imprisonment, $125,000 fine, or both. Prescribes additional minimum fines.” (Official overview)
Commentary: This is the strong anti-distracted driving bill introduced by Senate President Peter Courtney. He wants cell phone use to have the same consequences as drunk driving. Sources say his approach is way too punitive and has very little chance of passing. On the other hand, safety advocates say they appreciate that Courtney has raised awareness of the issue. There’s a chance this bill could be re-written with lower-level consequences; but an even greater chance that the distracted driving bill in the House, HB 2597, is the one that will move forward.
Status: No movement yet.
Summary: “Expands “move over law” to include any motor vehicle that is displaying warning or hazard lights or specific indications of distress.” (Official overview)
Commentary: This bill frustrates me and I’ll be sharing why in a separate post. In a nutshell, this bill was drafted by ODOT to make their “move over law” even stronger. It would now apply not just to emergency/police vehicles and first responders, but to anyone in a car. I think the “move over law” should explicitly include vulnerable road users. The current “safe passing law” for bicycles is weak and not understood by the public or law enforcement.
Status: Passed out of Judiciary Committee and awaiting vote from full Senate.
Summary: “Increases threshold amount that must be met before person is required to submit motor vehicle accident report.” (Official overview)
“It is a weird and car-centric rule to me.”
— Charley Gee, Lawyer
Commentary: The current threshold for when the Oregon DMV requires someone to submit an “Accident Report” is $1,500. This bill wants to up that amount to $3,000. This is a problem for bicycle users who seek justice after a collision. If you are invovled in a collision with a motor vehicle user while riding your bicycle that doesn’t result in personal injury (which would trigger the reporting requirement), a higher property damage threshold means even fewer bicycle collisions will be officially logged into the DMV database. Why? Because most bicycles are not worth $1,500 — and even fewer are worth over $3,000. In the words of local lawyer Charley Gee, “Why reward a driver who happened to be lucky enough to hit someone but not injure them or cause property damage above a certain threshold? Is a person riding a $750 bike less worthy of a reporting and tally in the states computer system than a person riding a $2,000 bike or a $12,000 bike? It is a weird and car-centric rule to me.”
Status: Work session in Senate Committee on Business and Transportation scheduled for February 20th.
Summary: “Extends recreational immunity to employees and agents of owner of land when acting within scope of duties and those with private property interests in land. Eliminates duty of care to maintain land for entry or use by others for certain purposes. Declares emergency, effective on passage.” (Official overview)
Commentary: This is the bill we reported about due to its potential impacts on recreational facilities in parks like Gateway Green. After a 2016 Oregon Supreme Court decision found that government employees (and even volunteers) could be held liable for tort claims, government agencies want to expand the “recreational immunity” concept. If it’s harder to sue the government, they can get cheaper insurance and are more likely to open — and keep open — free recreational facilities for the public. Passage of this bill is a top priority for the City of Portland.
Status: In the Judiciary Committee, no hearing scheduled.
Summary: “Requires State Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt rules for issuance of wildlife salvage permits to salvage deer or elk accidentally killed as result of vehicle collision.” (Official overview)
Commentary: This is just odd. My first reaction to this one was that it would encourage people to “hunt-by-car”. The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife says the law would, “provide a loophole for people to shoot a deer or elk then strike it with a vehicle in an attempt to claim it as road injured and killed for humane purposes.” I’m not a fan of anything that further weaponizes cars.
Status: In Senate Committee On Environment and Natural Resources. Public hearing held (2/8) but no vote yet.
Summary: “Directs Department of Transportation to establish Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area highway improvement program.” (Official overview)
Commentary: This bill doesn’t include funding, but it would give a jump-start to improving transportation in The Gorge. Among the things it would set into motion is a Gorge transportation plan and a project to add biking and walking facilities to the Bridge of the Gods!
Status: In Senate Business and Transportation Committee. No hearings scheduled.
Summary: “Creates new manner of committing crime of assault in the fourth degree when person with criminal negligence causes serious physical injury to vulnerable user of public way by means of motor vehicle.” (Official overview)
Commentary: Remember this one from last session? This is the Multnomah County District Attorney’s attempt to close a big gap in Oregon law. Right now more severe penalties for driving with criminal negligence are only triggered if you kill the person you hit. If they survive — regardless of how severely they are hurt — the possible punishment does not fit the crime. Last year this stalled after special interests representing truck drivers lobbied against it on the grounds it was too harsh. So this year it has been changed from a felony crime to a misdemeanor. I hope it passes.
Status: Public hearing held yesterday (2/16). No vote yet.
Summary: “Eliminates limitation of liability for owner of land used for trail or recreational purposes when owner is public body.” (Official overview)
Commentary: This is the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association’s counterpunch to SB 327. They say government entities and their employees/agents shouldn’t be shielded from liability when they fail to maintain facilities used by the public. A flyer being circulated in Salem by trial lawyer lobbyists says, “An improperly maintained playground should not be treated differently than improperly maintained water pipes.” As you can also see in the flyer, the Trial Lawyers Association also plans to actively oppose SB 327.
Status: In Judiciary Committee. No hearing scheduled.
Summary: “Creates offense of driving with dog in driver’s lap. Punishes by maximum fine of $250.” (Official overview)
Commentary: This sounds sort of silly on the surface, but it’s actually a real problem. Remember back in 2011 when a man was very seriously injured when a woman failed to maintain control of her car and hit him after being distracted by her dog? That incident led a State Senator to introduce a similar bill that same year that didn’t go anywhere. Six years later distracted driving and dog ownership are even more common. My problem with this bill is that I’d rather see us focus laws on more broad behaviors instead of specific ones. If we get our distracted driving laws right, we shouldn’t have to make a new law for each specific behavior.
Please stay tuned for our list of House bills. We’ll continue to track and report on individual bills as we can. And keep in mind, as a one-man newsroom with very limited capacity, I always welcome more eyes and ears in the State Capitol building. So if you have a tip on a bill, or if I’ve missed an important one below, please get in touch and let me know about it.