By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Law enforcement via 'civil exclusion'

Civil exclusion laws have a dark history in Oregon, where “white utopia” policies once banned all black people from entering the state. Today, though still controversial, civil exclusion laws are carefully crafted to remove lawbreakers from specific areas for limited periods of time.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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Next week, the McMinnville City Council will begin deliberations on a downtown civil exclusion law similar to what has been implemented elsewhere and upheld as constitutional by the state Supreme Court.

Portland eliminated its exclusion laws for drug-free and prostitution-free zones in 2007 because enforcement results were seen as discriminating against black citizens, but that city retains exclusion laws for criminal activity in parks and on other public property. Among places with such laws, Bend provides the best case study for what may be proposed for McMinnville.

Last year, Bend expanded its civil exclusion law to cover a downtown with behavioral problems similar to what we have in McMinnville. Many people agreed with Bend’s policy to remove troublemakers from the downtown for limited time periods, but in December, an editorial in The Bulletin called for elimination of the exclusion law.

“Stop this policy before Bend becomes known as ‘Exclusion City, USA,’” wrote The Bulletin. The commentary questioned the fairness and effectiveness of Bend’s law, which nonetheless is supported by Bend police as a valuable tool for law enforcement.

McMinnville City Manager Martha Meeker raised the issue locally, responding to a steady stream of complaints from downtown merchants and property owners about disruptive and often illegal behavior of youth and homeless people who hang out downtown. At her request, City Attorney David Koch produced a cautious summary of what would be constitutionally allowable, including detailed procedural protections for civil liberties.

Legal standards outlined by Koch would be more restrictive than Bend’s law in one very important area — requiring conviction, not just charges, for implementation of an exclusion.

For some people, civil exclusion under any set of policies is an affront to civil liberties. Perhaps that belief stems from their anathema toward this section of Oregon’s original constitution, ironically placed in the Bill of Rights:

“No free negro, or mulatto, not residing in this State at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate, or make any contracts, or maintain any suit therein.”

Now, that’s a form of Oregon civil exclusion we’d all rather forget.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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