by NW Spotlight
What’s the difference between a bike accident and rape? Don’t know? Well don’t feel bad, apparently neither does Oregon state Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene).
Using his position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, Prozanski successfully blocked an effort to increase the statute of limitations in Oregon for rape from 6 years to 20 years. A NY Times article at the time noted that half of all states have NO statute of limitations on rape at all. Despite that, Prozanski reduced the proposed increase from 20 years down to 12 years. Prozanski’s unusual resistance to the increased statute of limitations caused a victim of the Portland ‘jogger rapist’ to ask “why is Senator Prozanski protecting rapists?”
After successfully limiting the increase to 12 years, Prozanski said he wanted “time to convene a work group and revisit the possibility of a 20-year limit during [the 2016 ‘short session’],” and that he thought “it’s something that needs to be fully vetted now so we can have a better understanding.” Some of the rape survivors “saw that as a thinly veiled excuse to avoid action.”
SB 1553 in the ‘short session’
The outcome of the work group was the current Senate Bill 1553.
SB 1553 “Authorizes prosecution of first-degree sex crimes any time after commission of crime if prosecuting attorney obtains corroborating evidence of crime. Requires prosecuting attorney to present evidence reasonably tending to negate guilt to grand jury.”
OK, that sounds really good – it brings Oregon up to where half of states already are with regards to statute of limitation for rape.
Bikes and rape
But then it gets a bit strange. SB 1553 ALSO “Creates new manner of committing crime of assault in the third degree when person with criminal negligence causes serious physical injury by means of motor vehicle.”
That part of SB 1553, the “biker bill,” makes it a felony for a motorist to hit a bicyclist if there is serious injury to the bicyclist and the motorist displays “criminal negligence.”
Criminal negligence “means that a person a person fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to be aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.”
The impetus for the “biker bill,” which is intended to address “the negligence gap,” was the tragic May 2015 case of Alistair Corkett – who lost his leg in an accident.
The case involved a pick-up driver who tested positive for marijuana and was driving while uninsured, who had made a legal left turn in front of the bicyclist from the designated left turn lane. Corkett, the bicyclist, was “going pretty fast,” “did not appear to slow down as he approached the intersection and did not move into the ‘Bike Box’” – based on what a witness told police.
A Multnomah County deputy district attorney said “Although [the motorist] may have been negligent or even careless in failing to yield the right of way [the bicyclist], his conduct … is not the type of conduct that rises to the level of criminal conduct.”
Speaking on the case and the current law, Multnomah County DA Rod Underhill, himself a competitive bike racer, told attendees at a biking event “It pissed me off. I’m angry. It just doesn’t seem right. We need to change the law.”
During testimony on the bill, “Senator Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) expressed concerns that the new law might be unfair to some road users. In a comment directed to DA Underhill, she said, ‘I understand the motivation to want to nail a person to the wall, but I also have concerns the other way. And maybe it’s because of my phobia of driving in Portland where it seems like there are bicycles coming out of nowhere all the time.’”
Why is the “biker bill” in SB 1553 – isn’t is worthy of its own bill?
Could concerns like those expressed by Sen. Thatcher cause legislators to vote NO on SB 1553 – out of concerns on the “biker bill” portion of SB 1553?
Would that be fair to all the work done by the work group on the rape statute of limitations?
Does the “biker bill” portion need to be more fully vetted to ensure it isn’t unfair to some road users? Does it need a work group too – one that could bring recommendations back for the full regular session next year? Shouldn’t motorists be given the same legislative consideration as accused rapists were given?
Shouldn’t the “biker bill” be in its own bill?
There is no good reason to be combining these two very serious issues – both are of sufficient complexity and gravity to warrant their own bills.
UPDATE – Good news for rape victims! The legislation to increase the statute of limitations in Oregon for rape has been separated into its own bill, SB 1600. Unfortunately for the families & friends of the UCC tragedy victims, the “biker bill” has now been tacked on to the UCC victim’s information protection bill – in SB 1553.
UPDATE #2: The bill to lift the statute of limitations in Oregon for rape (SB 1600) has passed the Oregon Senate and House and is headed for signature to Gov. Kate Brown! The “biker bill” (SB 1553) died in the House Rules Committee. This begs the question of what would have happened to the rape statute of limitations if the unrelated “biker bill” had not been split out in to a different bill? It also raises the question of WHY Sen. Prozanski combined them in the first place – was it yet another attempt by Prozanski to protect rapists (hoping the “biker bill” would be a poison pill for the rape statute of limitations) or was he trying to push a pet biking bill on the backs of rape victims?