FREE SPEECH: Enable expansion of municipal "sit-lie" ordinances (HB 2963) (2013)
Seeking to expand the “sit-lie ordinance” in Portland, the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) introduced HB 2963. The bill would have overturned the decision in the 2009 Multnomah County case State v. Perkins where the judge said that the Portland ordinance that regulated when people could be on the sidewalk was preempted by state law and therefore was unconstitutional. HB 2963 seemed to be a pretty simple bill because it said only that state laws do not preempt local laws that address use of sidewalks. We opposed the bill because we believed that its reach would be greater than the face of the bill indicated.
For years in Portland, stakeholders from diverse perspectives – including the ACLU – have convened to try to settle upon a fair and equitable system for managing traffic and activities on the city’s sidewalks. How a city governs its sidewalks can have implications not only for vulnerable populations such as those without housing or people experiencing mental health issues, but also for the free expression rights of people utilizing public space for constitutionally protected activities.
Traditionally, proponents of sidewalk ordinances tend to be business interests, looking for a mechanism to clear certain groups of people from downtown areas. At the request of PBA, HB 2963 would have opened the door to significant expansion Portland’s sidewalk ordinance (not to mention other cities and towns in Oregon), leaving the discretion of when and against whom to enforce the ordinance to local law enforcement officers. This kind of discretion concerns us because it invites disparate enforcement against vulnerable populations or people in engaging in expressive activity.
HB 2963 was passed by the House but, upon greater vetting on the Senate side, it did not move forward this session. We were pleased to see HB 2963 not move forward, but we expect to see the proposal come back in future sessions and, in the meantime, we are continuing to engage with stakeholders at the City of Portland to protect civil liberties interests in the face of any new changes to sidewalk management in Portland.
VICTORY! Died in Senate committee.