"We kept hearing from community members that seemed to be saying we don't have an effective way for the OLCC to clamp down on problem establishments," says N/NE Portland Representative Tina Kotek who introduced HB 3295 (pdf) along with Senator Jackie Dingfelder (NE/SE Portland) and two other legislators. "Ninety, ninety five percent of bars are good neighbors, but for the bad ones, we need more ways to police them."
Liquor license suspensions are relatively rare—the OLCC handed out 148 temporary suspension last year, plus permanently canceled the licenses of nine bars statewide for persistent violations ranging from overpouring and bad security to being the scene of bloody fights and people passing out in their shrubbery.
Under the new rules, local law enforcement would essentially have emergency powers to order a bar to immediately shut down for up to 72 hours after a "serious injury or death occurs as a result of their operation and the business presents a continued risk to public safety."
The legislators referenced the infamous Club 915, which was the scene of two deaths and 17 other crimes last year before its liquor license was suspended. In that case, the city petitioned the OLCC to suspend Club 915's license, but the process took six days. Under the proposed rules, the mayor, police chief, or (as the bill is written) even police officers could shut it down immediately.
It's definitely troubling that a bar like Club 915 was allowed to operate for so long with no punishment—if the OLCC had taken away their license earlier, two deaths may have been averted.
But it seems like there's some potential for abuse with the law: Police officers or the city could potentially interpret the "serious public safety concerns" language liberally and use it to harass or threaten bars that are causing small-time trouble, like noise violations or public intoxication.
Rep. Kotek says the legislators might have to "clarify" in the bill that they mean for the shut-down decision to be made only at the highest levels. "Our understanding is we would want it to be the police chief or city council," says Kotek. "That one bar that has noisy patrons outside, we're not talking about that. We're talking about very specific and serious problems and giving the OLCC the authority to react more quickly to these issue."
The "serious" incidents spelled out in the bill are, indeed, mostly very serious. Law enforcement could immediately shut down a bar if any of these crimes occur: homicide, assault in the 3rd, 2nd, or 1st degree, kidnapping, rape or sodomy, unlawful use or possession of a firearm, unlawful manufacture or delivery of heroin, marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, or methamphetamine.
So potentially, if someone seems to be selling pot in a bar, the place could be shut down for 72 hours.