New 2024 Oregon laws go into effect, addiction, homelessness addressed

By Rosalie Zuckermann

Several novel Oregon laws went into effect on Jan 1. In 2023, the ongoing addiction and homelessness crises provoked several state of emergency declarations.  These new laws aim to tackle Oregon’s current challenges. According to Jamie Parfitt of KGW8 and Dirk VanderHart for Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), other pieces of legislation seek to expand protections for queer couples, victims of sexual abuse and property owners impacted by wildfires.

House Bill (HB) 2095, which expands cities’ ability to install traffic-monitoring cameras, was enacted in response to increasing traffic violation rates. In the same vein, HB 2316 expands the definition of “intoxicant” as it applies to DUI cases. The term will now include legal opioid or stimulant-like substances, such as kratom. This bill reduces fines and penalties for bicyclists riding under the influence — with the exception of e-bikers. 

In response to Oregon’s ongoing struggle with drug addiction and Measure 110’s groundbreaking decriminalization of personal possession of illicit drugs in 2021, HB 2315 increased the potential for funding to help addiction services across the state. Similarly, Senate Bill (SB) 529 seeks to improve treatment options for incarcerated people struggling with addiction. According to KGW8, the bill removes “outdated requirements for prison programs.” Community-centered services like peer mentorship and support groups will replace an emphasis on discipline and physical labor as “correctional.” 

The bill urges prisons to “address addiction as a chronic disease and recognize that participants have individualized needs,” as KGW8 said. 

On the other side of addiction treatment, SB 1043 gives resources to patients in recovery. Following a discharge from opioid addiction-related treatment, hospitals and care facilities are now required to provide patients with naloxone, the generic name of the opioid overdose reversing drug commonly known as Narcan. 

According to OPB, the days after a release can be a particularly vulnerable time for patients as “their bodies no longer have a tolerance to the same amount they were using prior to treatment.” 

 SB 1043 takes advantage of the increased over-the-counter availability of naloxone sprays like Narcan which help protect patients from overdose.

Healthcare patients of all kinds in Oregon’s nonprofit hospitals may be eligible to receive refunds if they were billed for care they could not afford. HB 3320 introduces protections for patients needing financial assistance and encourages hospitals to make use of state-wide programs that will cover medical bills in these cases. Another attempt to assist low-income families comes in the form of the Oregon Kids’ Credit, a part of HB 3235. This clause grants “credits of $1,000 for every child under 6 years old,” to families that make less than $25,000 a year, OPB states. Other credits are available for families making up to $30,000 a year. 

In an attempt to expand housing options, HB 2984 reduces the bureaucratic obstacles for converting commercial buildings located in residential zones into housing in cities with at least 10,000 people. OPB connects this move to Gov. Tina Kotek’s goal to boost housing production and development statewide. Indeed, this law does come after a study by BAE Urban Economics, reported on by OPB, which recommended lowering development fees as a way to incentivize construction of affordable housing. 

In December of 2023, Tim Gordon reported for KGW8 on the closure of three Target stores located in Portland. Target explained the closures, which also included stores in other major cities, in a company statement, claiming that “organized retail crime(s) are threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance.” 

Following these claims, a months-long investigation by CNBC “cast doubt on Target’s explanation for the store closures and raised questions about whether the company’s announcement was designed to advance its legislative agenda and obscure poor financial performance.” 

Several other big-box store chains have cited shoplifting as a reason for shuttering their Portland city locations, including REI and Nike. Regardless of how substantiated these companies’ claims surrounding shoplifting may prove to be, their public statements have garnered negative media attention. This attention rests particularly heavily on Portland’s shoulders, as the city continues to receive national criticism for its response to homelessness and addiction issues. SB 340 responds to boxstores’ claims of debilitating theft, increasing consequences for those convicted. Sentences are even higher for repeat offenders. SB 340 also changes the language around first-degree theft, adding convictions of this level must include substantial risk of injury to another. 

Another change came following a “spate of attacks on the Pacific Northwest’s power grid,” according to OPB, several new laws address domestic terrorism and paramilitary activity. HB 2772 outlines a new felony crime for domestic terrorism which involves destruction of “critical infrastructure” or deployment of toxic substances. HB 2572 gives the State Attorney General, currently Ellen Rosenblum, permission to investigate organized paramilitary activity and petition a judge to block these activities if they aim to intimidate others or infringe on freedom of speech. The bill also grants private individuals the right to sue paramilitary groups in the case of injury.

In 2022, Oregon received fierce backlash for releasing a map of areas under the greatest wildfire risk, according to OPB. Critics were concerned that the map could be used by insurance companies to increase homeowner, rental or other types of property insurance in these areas. Some were concerned that insurance companies may cease to offer these policies in the defined areas altogether. SB 82 directly addresses this concern by prohibiting insurance companies from using wildfire risk maps to make policy decisions. 

Next, HB 3632 is an effort to expand accountability for sexual crimes. Under the new law, the statute of limitations for first-degree sex crimes is 20 years, or before the survivor’s 30th birthday if they were a minor when the abuse was committed — whichever provides the survivor more time to report the crime. This expansion applies to all crimes reported before and after the law took effect.

Though same-sex marriage is currently legal nationwide, many states like Oregon had passed laws offering partnership options and other protections for such couples before the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The Oregon Family Fairness Act, passed in 2007, allowed same-sex couples “to register as legally recognized domestic partners,” according to KGW8. Now, in 2024, HB 2032 expands this act, allowing couples of any gender composition to apply for domestic partnership.

Oregon’s social, environmental and legislative histories are uniquely addressed by this set of new laws. Many of the bills also reflect larger, national conversations surrounding inflation and its effects, sexual abuse reporting and opioid addiction. As the year goes on, we can expect to see the impact of these policies and the shaping of future responses to these issues.

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