March 25, 2003

SB 742 Down But Not Out

There appears to be some mass confusion over the current state of SB 742 (note: links to original version, not amended version which is currently unavailable) -- the proposed Oregon law which contains an over-broad definition of terrorism clearly intended to sweep up many legitimate, although technically illegal, tactics of civil disobedience.

The confusion began Monday afternoon with this thread in Portland Indymedia, which claimed that after that morning's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill, Senator Ginny Burdick's office was telling people that the bill had "died in committee."

Anyone who was actually there at the hearing knows that, unless it was all some sort of committee arcana that outsiders need described to them, this bill did not die.

Yes, it was resolutely hammered during the testimony they had time for. Yes, there were so many, many people who responded to the call for people to attend that even the overflow room needed an overflow room and many of us were splayed out in a lobby in front of a television set airing the hearing. Yes, the bill is obviously not going to be brought to the floor at the moment.

But Senator Minnis -- the bill's sponsor and head of the Committee -- showed no particular signs of wanting to back down, he possessed one of the worst attitudes towards testifiers that I have ever seen, and he appeared determined to find a bill that would go forward.

It was not particularly easy for those testifying to discuss fine details of the bill itself, since Minnis suddenly threw in some changes, copies of which almost no one appeared to have, and those who did clearly had not had all that much time to consider them.

What was clear nonetheless was that even with these changes, the bill still reached too broadly for a definition of terrorism.

In the end, the Committee had to end, not everyone got to testify, Minnis asserted they would go off to do more work on the bill, and it was stated that another hearing would be arranged at some unspecified later date.

Yes, all of that could indeed mean that, by legislative standards, the bill "died in committee" -- but it would be foolish to presume such a thing barring a direct and public statement by Senator Minnis.

And this has not happened.

So SB 742 continues to exist, somewhere, in some slightly-mutated form upon which few seem to be able to lay their hands.

The point is, don't drop the ball now.

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