GOP-Sponsored Sex Crime Prevention Legislation Clears Senate

The Oregon Senate on Monday passed — with near-unanimous support — two Republican-sponsored measures aimed at curbing opportunities for human trafficking and other sex crimes in public spaces.

Both proposals, Senate Bill 515 and Senate Bill 535, were sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, of Stayton, and Senator Bill Kennemer, Republican of Canby.

SB 515 would require employees of bars and restaurants to report “reasonable belief” of suspected human trafficking or unlawful employment of minors, while SB 535 would make hotel workers mandatory reporters and require the immediate reporting of suspected child pornography by computer technicians or processors.

“Republicans are committed to standing up for victims this session,” Girod said in a statement. “That requires us to give law enforcement the tools to prevent and stop heinous crimes in real time. … By all of us taking a little responsibility for the most vulnerable in our communities, we can make a difference.”

Traffickers specialize in keeping victims out of sight by constantly moving around but interact with workers at hotels and bars. Republican supporters of these bills say the legislation empowers those workers to be vigilant and partner with law enforcement to save lives.

Sadly, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the United States, according to the Department of Defense. Portland, specifically, has been identified as a hotbed of sex trafficking, with nearly 750 victims from 2018–2019.

“Trafficking and sex crimes are happening in our own backyard, and we need more tools to fight them,” said Senator Tim Knopp, R-Bend. “It’s not just Portland. Traffickers use public spaces, like bars, restaurants, and hotels, up and down I-5 and other routes to hide. These employees can play an important role in reporting.”

“Amid unbelievable rising crime rates across Oregon, advocating for public safety and victims’ rights must be among the Legislature’s top priorities,” Senator Lynn Findley, R-Vale, added. “Sexual exploitation crimes often go unreported and victims don’t have the resources they need to find help. The more reporting the community does, the better.”

Both bills passed the Senate overwhelmingly, with only Senator Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, voting against SB 515, while SB 535 was opposed only by Heard and Senator Brian Boquist, a longtime GOP lawmaker from Dallas who has declared himself an independent.

Heard, who is also the chair of the Oregon Republican Party, has voted “no” on every bill that’s come before him in protest of what he says is the majority Democrats’ manipulation of the session agenda.

Both measures now head to the House for consideration.

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