Last we checked in on the Portland Business Alliance's legislative attempt to reincarnate Portland's old "sit-lie" sidewalks ordinance—HB 2963—it had come up for a hearing in the Oregon House Judiciary Committee where lawmakers heard impassioned testimony from business interests and free speech advocates but took no action.
It passed the committee last week, and today, in a perfunctory vote, cleared the Oregon House of Representatives, on its way to the Senate, without a shred of debate. Only two representatives said no: Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and Michael Dembrow, D-Portland.
"It's a good bill and I urge your 'aye' vote," State Representative Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, the judiciary chair and a retired Portland cop, told his colleagues in the only meaningful remarks uttered before voting started.
The bill, if approved and signed by the governor, would lift away state rules that limit how far cities can go in deciding who gets to use public sidewalks and who can't. It would allow cities to regulate sidewalks as they please but sets a maximum civil fine of $250 for sidewalk infractions. In 2009, a judge tossed out Portland's sit-lie law because he ruled it ran afoul of state pre-emption laws that leave the Oregon constitution as the final word in free speech.
Advocates including the ACLU of Oregon, Street Roots, and the Oregon Law Center are very worried that the bill, by stripping away a rule that cops prove "intent" before citing someone for disorderly conduct, will mark a return to sidewalk rules that they say unfairly targeted the homeless.
The PBA says the current rules aren't working—leading to a proliferation of aggressive "street kids" scaring away tourists and conventioneers. And it wants to have a conversation about the shape of any new sidewalk rules, with advocates and providers. But advocates testified previously that the current legal bars to sit-lie aren't actually preventing that conversation from happening right now.
"The PBA sold this as a local control issue," ACLU legislative director Becky Straus said this afternoon, "and the House bought it at the expense of the integrity of our statutory free expression protections."
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