A proposed bill that would make it a crime to threaten a school or place of worship has been put on hold until the next legislative session.
“The goal of the bill is really to say that it isn’t protected free speech to threaten the lives of kindergartners or high schoolers or a place of worship,” said Bend Sen. Tim Knopp.
Currently there is no specific law or clear consequences for local law enforcement to follow when a threat is made, often leading offenders to receiving little more than a slap on the wrist.
“There are limited laws that can apply because often times these threats are made from a distance. You have Disorderly Conduct that may or not apply with those circumstances, you have Menacing that may or may not apply with those circumstances,” said Bend Police Deputy Chief Paul Kansky. “Many of these cases have ended with a harsh warning.”
On Tuesday, the bill was scheduled for a work session in the House Judiciary Committee, but Tawna Sanchez, chairwoman of the committee announced that it would not move forward. Instead, a work group will create legislation for the 2021 session.
Her office told Central Oregon Daily there was a lot of opposition and and many questions about the bill, which is why it’s not moving forward this session
Under House Bill 4145, offenders would be punished with anywhere from one to five yeas in jail, or fines between $6,000 and $125,000 fines.
However, Bend Rep. Cheri Helt, one of the bill’s sponsors, says it’s not just about punishing offenders. It’s just as much about getting them help.
“This [bill] creates a culture where we can get a mental health assessment from someone who is threatening our schools, and I think it’s an important step in changing the conversation around societal violence,” said Helt.
Bend-La Pine school district officials joined a group from Bend who traveled to Salem in support of the bill earlier this week.
“We really feel like this gives us an opportunity to assist our students in time of crisis and we feel like when we hear students making threats like this it’s really them saying, ‘I need help. This is my red flag, I need help’,” said Julianne Repman, Bend-La Pine’s Director of Communication and Safety.
Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said he was disappointed in the decision but recognized it was probably a casualty of the short session.
“The bill enjoyed broad support from the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, Oregon Chiefs of Police, Oregon Education Association and district attorneys across Oregon,” he said. “The intent was to give law enforcement the tools they need to hold those accountable who bring fear into churches and schools, traumatizing our children.”