Portland police during a 2020 protest in downtown Portland.
Portland police during a 2020 protest in downtown Portland. MATHIEU LEWIS-ROLLAND

Oregon state lawmakers will hear public testimony on two law enforcement bills Wednesday, picking up its police reform work where last years' special sessions left off.

The Oregon Legislature shifted its focus to law enforcement reform in 2020 after a Black man named George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in late May, an incident that sparked protest and drew attention to inequitable policing practices across Oregon. In what would be the first of three special legislative sessions, lawmakers convened on June 24 to fast-track bills related to police reform and COVID-19 relief.

Those bills, championed by the Legislature's BIPOC Caucus (BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color), include limitations to when police can use tear gas, a ban on police chokeholds, and a new public database for disciplinary actions taken against police officers in Oregon. Lawmakers also passed a bill that created a new subcommittee tasked with researching and vetting police reform policies to propose during 2021's legislative session, which kicked off last week.

Now, after generating more than a dozen potential bills, the House Subcommittee On Equitable Policing will begin hearing public testimony on their proposals. Wednesday's hearing will focus on two proposed bills: one that establishes a state database of reports of use of force by police officers, and the other requiring officers to ensure that, after making an arrest, the arrested person receives a medical assessment.

Both bills are sponsored by Rep. Janelle Bynum, who serves as the subcommittee's chair. Bynum is also a member of the Oregon Legislature's BIPOC Caucus, which unveiled a slate of legislative priorities last week that is centered on police reform and racial equity.

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Unsurprisingly, both the Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs and the Portland Police Association (PPA)—the union representing rank-and-file officers with the Portland Police Bureua (PPB)—are opposed to both bills. In an email sent by PPA alerting their followers of Wednesday's hearing, the union calls the bills "anti-police," and raises concerns that a database could "dangerously" help the public obtain officers' personal information.

Wednesday's hearing is the first step in a prolonged bureaucratic process. If these bills get the subcommittee's stamp of approval, they'll be passed to the House Judiciary Committee for further scrutiny before making it to the House floor.

The House subcommittee expects to hold more public hearings on other police-adjacent bills over the next two weeks, including legislation on officer identification, the use of booking photos, and penalties for officer misconduct. Members of the public can sign up to provide written or oral testimony on the subcommittee's website.

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