By editorial board • 

Call for police reform musters rare degree of common cause

Newt Gingrich introduced polarization to American politics with unprecedented success during his term as House speaker in the latter half of the 1990s. He coerced Republicans to bloc-vote his Contract with America through the legislative process, reservations be damned.

His cancerous demand for conformity quickly spread from the Republican Party to its Democratic counterpart and from the halls of Congress to the 50 statehouses. Soon, the real decisionmaking began occurring largely in closed-door party caucuses, not in open, public floor sessions.

But on rare occasions, members of the nation’s two major opposing parties can find common ground even on a nationally contentious social issue like police reform. And on even rarer occasions, they can manage to do so in Democratically dominated Oregon.

We can now mark two such occasions here, and they should not go unheralded. It seems to us they have not received nearly the notice they deserve.

Triggered by George Floyd’s agonizing, nine-minute, slow-motion death under the boot of a Minneapolis police officer, and the national turmoil that erupted in its wake, the Oregon Legislature enacted a six-pack of police reform measures during a June 2020 special session.

And get this: One of them passed unanimously in both chambers. None of the rest drew more than two no votes in the Senate or four in the House.

Sadly, a pair of local representatives, Rep. Mike Nearman and Sen. Brian Boquist, accounted for a goodly share of the opposition. Nearman opposed five of the bills, Boquist four. And Boquist was the lone Senate dissenter on three of them.

With more time to study avenues of further action and garner support for them, legislative leaders returned during this year’s regular session with a package of nine more. And their near-unanimous showing in the House suggests smooth sailing in the Senate.

With Nearman facing criminal indictment in addition to a bad bout with COVID, he was on excused absence when the bills hit the House floor. That may have helped six of the nine achieve unanimous package, and two others to earn just four no votes.

Only House Bill 3164, limiting the circumstances under which a person could be charged with interfering with a police officer, stirred more than token opposition. And the count on it was a lopsided 48-10, with two absences.

Last year’s package established a joint legislative committee on police accountability, banned chokeholds and tear gas, required officers to report colleague misconduct, established a statewide database of suspensions and revocations, and limited ability to overturn discipline through arbitration.

This year’s requires CPR and clear airway training, further strengthens misconduct reporting requirements, requires background and social media checks to curb racism, supports gender bias training, makes doxing legally actionable, limits release of booking photos, bars obscuring of name or badge number, and clarifies the basis for declaring an assembly unlawful.

The joint committee established last year — a bipartisan group including our own Rep. Ron Noble, former police chief in McMinnville — led the way in developing this year’s followup package of reform measures. Building bipartisanship in at the outset proved its value in the smooth House passage and figures to pay off in like fashion in the Senate.

Democracy best works its magic when members of the two opposing parties can work out their differences amicably in advance and coalesce around a result that works for virtually everyone. And that’s what appears to be happening here.


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