- ILLUSTRATION BY DAVE KIERSH
But the bill was removed from the agenda yesterday, and now legislative sources say the bill is likely dead. Tomorrow is the last day for bills to move out of policy committees, and it's "unlikely" the bill will be restored to Judiciary's agenda later today or if there will even be a meeting tomorrow.
Judiciary Chairman Floyd Prozanski had been notably skeptical of the bill. And now it seems there were enough concerns the bill would fail on the Senate floor—despite passing with all but two "no" votes in the House—that HB 2963 will be quietly put out to pasture.
"It appears to not be moving," says Tom Powers, communications director for Senate Democrats. "it may not be able to receive further action. There were a few no votes on the floor. It wasn't clear it had the votes to pass."
Update 11 AM: Mercury news intern Virginia Alvino, in Salem today, caught up with Prozanski outside today's Senate floor session, and he confirmed the bill will die this session. "We didn't have the votes to move the bill forward," Prozanski told her, also adding, however, "I've agreed to do a work group in the interim to hash this thing out." (For more from Prozanski, hit the jump!)
Update 11:20 AM: Where were those potential "no" votes coming from? The office of Senator Chip Shields, D-Portland, says they'd have been on the list. "I don't think he'd have anything else to add about the votes," a staffer says, "except that his would be a no."
Powers says the PBA met with Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum a couple of days ago. By then, the writing was likely on the wall. Senate Democrats paid keen attention to the fact that the bill didn't pass unanimously in the House. Representatives Michael Dembrow and Sara Gelser, two Democrats, both said no.
Dembrow wrote in a statement posted by Right 2 Survive, a homelessness advocacy group, that he often worked with the PBA but that "I am concerned about potential discrimination against the homeless. I want to make sure that any local ordinances are fair and balanced to the greatest extent possible. HB 2963 does not guarantee this."
"People here noticed, once it passed, that two Democrats voted no," Powers says. "That brought the bill some closer scrutiny."
He also said the House Judiciary panel—which I'll note has many suburban and rural members and is chaired by Jeff Barker, a retired Portland cop—has a "different" makeup than the Senate panel, which is led by Prozanski, from Eugene, and has other Portland-area senators.
"That's another reason that it ran into some bigger resistance over here," Powers says of the Senate.
As for concerns of spurning the PBA, he pointed out: "It was really just one group's bill. The larger business community is focused on other issues."
Update 11 AM continued: Prozanski touched on the notion that this was a Portland-focused bill with statewide ramifications.
During a hearing earlier this month on HB 2963, former Corvallis State Representative Barbara Ross drove home that message in testimony that contrasted Portland's general awareness and willingness to discuss free-speech issues with the lack of that kind of willingness or resources in rural communities whose cops would be unleashed by the ability to pass loose sidewalk rules.
In passing state legislation the objective, Prozanski says, the goal is to "not have unintended consequences in the rest of the state."
He wouldn't directly answer if pulling the bill was his idea. It's also not exactly clear what a working group will look like or discuss. But he did say this:
"I have the authority to run the committee agenda, just like any other committee chair."
Update 11:23 AM: What about Portland? While the Portland City Council never formally took a stance on the bill, the Mercury first reported back on May 1 that Mayor Charlie Hales, in his state of the city speech, was ready to pivot to sidewalks and panhandling after the budget.
He told me directly, after his speech, that he favored a balanced approach that included greater local control of sidewalks alongside social services programs.
From my Hall Monitor column almost a month ago:
• The mayor is listening closely to the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) and its beefs over the city's sidewalks. Hales used the unfortunate word "epidemic" to link two separate-but-related concepts: "homelessness" and "panhandling." He's not outwardly supporting a bill that would lift away state limits currently keeping the city from resurrecting "sit-lie" laws. But he is in favor of wresting local control from the state and has echoed the PBA's call for "civility" on the sidewalks.
Hales told me after his speech that the city needs "reasonable authority" over its sidewalks and that he'll "put attention" into the issue after the budget.
"And not just the enforcement side," he says. "But the social services side."
(This was much more worrisome until he backed that statement up with his budget plan—actually funding safety net programs otherwise targeted for deep cuts.)
In the meantime, Commissioner Amanda Fritz wrote a "private citizen" letter to Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, opposing the bill. The Oregonian's editorial board first reported that letter. Fritz, through her office, has declined to share it—even though it's dubious that a sitting commissioner still gets to write letters, as a "private citizen," to elected senators on issues she might have to deal with on council.