New year brings new laws

New laws will take effect in Oregon beginning Jan. 1, including increased fines for poaching, criminal penalties for impersonating military personnel or public servant to intimidate another, a widened definition of soliciting prostitution and the banning of sky lanterns.

The 2016 legislative session was a short one, but Oregon lawmakers had enough time to approve a handful of new laws that will go into effect Jan. 1.

Some ­— like a law authorizing the governing body of Tillamook County to establish wetlands — apply to a very narrow segment of the state’s population. But others will affect all Oregonians.

As always, not knowing about a new law is not a valid legal defense if you get caught breaking it.

Criminal impersonation

Sending intimidating emails to your neighbor while pretending to be the city planner is now a crime.

Senate Bill 1567 makes it illegal to impersonate a public servant, veteran or member of the Armed Forces with the intent to cause another person injury.

The new law applies even in cases where the specific job title or government department used by the impostor does not actually exist.

Oregon’s previous identity theft law was interpreted by the courts to only apply to impersonations that involved financial fraud, leaving prosecutors unable charge those who did so only to intimidate or embarrass. The new law defines “injury” to include physical harm, threats, harassment and intimidation.

The crime is a Class A misdemeanor punishable with up to a year in prison and/or a $6,250 fine. (A separate law already in effect makes impersonating a police officer or judge a Class C felony.)

Poaching penalties

Would-be poachers who get caught unlawfully taking or killing wildlife will face substantially higher fines in the new year.

The penalty for illegally killing moose, mountain sheep and mountain goats will double from $25,000 to $50,000. A variety of other fees will increase significantly, including a hike from $1,000 to $5,000 for oversized sturgeon and from $100 to $1,000 for wild turkeys and sage grouse.

Sky lanterns

If you were planning on kicking off the new year by releasing a glowing Chinese lantern into the atmosphere for good luck, think again.

The lanterns (known as sky lanterns, Chinese lanterns, UFO balloons or wish lanterns) are “mini hot air balloons” made of a paper sack over an open flame that pushes the lantern into the air.

House Bill 4140 prohibits the release of the lanterns into Oregon airspace. Oregon fire marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple called the uncontrolled, open-flame devices an “extreme fire hazard.”

“Once released you have no control over where they may land,” she said. “They could end up on someone’s rooftop, in a tree, or a pile of debris and cause an unwanted fire.”

The Class A violation will now be punishable by up to $2,000 in fines.

Sex crimes

Victims of rape, child abuse or other first-degree sex crimes no longer need to worry about their abusers hiding behind a statute of limitations.

Senate Bill 1600 removed the 12-year statute of limitations on first-degree sex crimes in Oregon, as long as the prosecution has corroborating evidence of the crime or multiple victims come forward.

That law is joined by Senate Bill 1571, known as Melissa’s Law, which requires that all sexual assault forensic evidence kits be kept for at least 60 years after collection. It also directs the Oregon State Police to create a position or group of positions to handle inquiries from victims and other law enforcement agencies about the testing of kits, and prioritizes the testing of kits that are connected with active cases in which the victim has agreed to participate in prosecution.

Immigration consulting

If you’re an immigrant concerned about your status under a new presidential administration, you’ll be happy to know that fake immigration attorneys preying on worried immigrants will now face charges of obstructing justice if they get caught.

House Bill 4128 adds unlicensed immigration consulting “with the intent to defraud” to the list of reasons someone can be charged with obstructing governmental or judicial administration. It also adds offering unauthorized notary services “with the intent to defraud.”

The new law amends Oregon’s definition of extortion to include threatening to reveal a someone’s immigration status to law enforcement if they (or a family member or friend) do not deliver services or goods or refrain from reporting illegal activity.

Obstruction is a Class A misdemeanor, while extortion is a Class B felony.

Whistleblower protections

Handing over evidence of your boss’s corruption, abuse or fraud won’t carry the same risks it used to, thanks to the whistleblower protections implemented with House Bill 6047.

State employees and nonprofit workers will be given affirmative defense — which amounts to protection from criminal or civil penalties for the commission of a specific crime — for giving lawfully obtained information about wrongdoing to a law enforcement agency, regulatory agency or manager.


The definition of “promoting prostitution” has been expanded in Oregon, thanks to House Bill 4082.

Previously sex trafficking could only be prosecuted if the one “promoting prostitution” was receiving money or property in exchange for their role in facilitating the sexual encounter. The charge of promoting prostitution will now apply to receiving “goods and services derived from prostitution” including benefits like shelter or manual labor.

Postmortem account access

You can now leave your Twitter handle or Instagram photos to someone in your will.

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act addresses a problem for the digital age: People are having difficulty getting companies to give them access to their loved ones’ digital assets after they die.

Oregon’s legislature joined several other states in enacting the law, which requires social media companies and other online platforms to give access to social media accounts, blogs, online videos, photos stored in “the cloud” and other digital assets to fiduciaries named in wills, or give users an option such as Facebook’s “legacy contact” setting that allows users to name a third party who can access their account in the event of their death.

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