A high priority bill for the Portland Bureau of Transportation has taken another step forward in the Oregon Legislature. House Bill 4105 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday by a vote of 4 to 3. It passed the Oregon House last week.
The bill would give cities the authority to take oversight of automated red light and speed enforcement camera citations away from uniformed police officers and name a “duly authorized traffic enforcement agent” to review and process them. This agent would be similar to parking enforcement officers and backers say removing police from the equation would reduce administrative bottlenecks, improve traffic safety, and free up police to work on more important duties.
At Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee meeting, we got an opportunity to hear why some lawmakers oppose the bill. Similar to what happened in the House, the Senate committee passed the bill on a party-line vote with all three Republicans voting against it.
Senator Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) said she couldn’t support the bill because of privacy concerns. “I just have a recalcitrant resistance to furthering along the surveillance state,” she said. Sen. Thatcher warned of a slippery slope and added, “We’re starting with this, but it’s going to expand to this… and in the name of safety we would all be safer if we just had cameras everywhere… but I just don’t think it’s right.”
Senator Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), who supports the bill, reminded Republicans that this bill doesn’t add any new traffic cameras and that they are already legal for use in Oregon. “Are we giving up our freedoms? The freedom to potentially evade you a police officer’s presence there? Maybe, but we trade-off liberties all the time. And this is one where the goal is to keep people safe and to avoid crashes.”
Eugene Democrat Senator James Manning echoed Dembrow. Sen. Manning said Oregon is just trying to catch up to other places where cameras have long been a big part of traffic enforcement:
“I really don’t understand why we’re going down a rabbit hole… We’ve been in a big brother overwatch for years, decades, so it’s nothing new. I want to make sure that law enforcement is able to concentrate on crime, preventing crime and capturing the perpetrators of crime.”
The most memorable testimony against the bill came from Senator Dallas Heard, a Republican from Roseburg. In a statement before his “no” vote he railed against what he sees as nothing more than a government power-grab:
“I am not one that trusts concentrated power… I would ask you to consider in the years ahead not trusting people who have concentrated power regardless of who they are, because history is just a trash field of people who have been crushed under such police states. The bodies are endless. And sadly, we have true equality in that everyone has been a victim of concentrated power. Making it more expedient and easier for the government to grow its power and get the ticket sent out is not helping us not repeat history.”
Sen Dembrow and Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin (D-Corvallis) could both be seen giggling after Heard’s comment, although it’s not clear if they were responding to him or something else.
Since the bill passed Tuesday did so with a minor amendment to clean up some language, it will need to go back to the House for a concurrence vote before it reaches the full Senate floor.