In the end, it is a shame that a few Oregon lawmakers were forced to resort to a little-known, and hardly used, rule to get a bill that addresses criminal sexual contact off the ice and moving in the Legislature.
The legislation, Senate Bill 649 — also known as Bailey’s Bill — boosts penalties for criminal sexual contact with an underage victim if the offender is the victim’s teacher. The existing law delivers harsher penalties to a coach caught in the same situation as a teacher. The bill, named after Weston-McEwen student Bailey Munck, received easy approval in the Oregon Senate before it traveled to the House where, for reasons not clear, it stalled at the House Judiciary Committee.
The chair of the committee, Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, “indicated” she was not going to give the bill a hearing, which prompted nine members of the judicial committee to invoke House Rule 8.20. The rule stipulates that, if a majority of committee members request a hearing in writing, the chair must set up a hearing within five days.
After invoking the rule, public hearings were held May 18 and May 24.
Bynum’s reluctance to move the bill may be connected to political brinkmanship, where it was going to be used as a bargaining chip regarding other legislation. Hopefully, that is incorrect. If it is not, then that should give readers — not to mention voters — pause.
A bill that addresses a subject as sensitive as criminal sexual contact should not be regulated to a mere chess piece on broader political chess board.
The lawmakers who pushed for the hearing should be lauded. Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, and Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Milwaukie, who navigated the bill through the Senate, also deserve praise.
Bailey’s Bill should not have ended up stuck in limbo in a committee of the House. The bill, once it reached the House, should have been acted on immediately.
That it was not is troubling.
The broader issue, though, is appropriate punishment for those who prey on our children. This bill will fix a glaring hole that seemingly gives instructors a lighter punishment when they, in fact, should receive the same penalty as coaches. It will close a dangerous loophole.
The other key piece of the bill is it has wide, bipartisan support. Currently, such unity among lawmakers is rare and when it occurs should be advanced as quickly as possible.
This time lawmakers did the right thing, and voters should be pleased.