Gresham celebrates elimination of Oregon's stolen vehicle loophole

June 19, 2019

It’s about to be get harder to steal a vehicle in Oregon. The City of Gresham, and the lawmakers representing it, celebrated the passage of HB 2328 today, which passed easily in the Oregon State Senate. The bill previously passed the House of Representatives last week, which means that it now moves on to the Governor’s desk for signature.

The issue rose to prominence when a pair of Court rulings in 2014 and 2015 reinterpreted Oregon’s stolen vehicle statutes, establishing a much more strenuous burden of proof—suspects typically had to get caught in the act of stealing the vehicles or admit the vehicles were stolen. HB 2328 reestablished the previous burden of proof—evidence like fingerprints, possession of the stolen vehicle, and possession of the tools used to steal the vehicle—putting the teeth back into Oregon’s stolen vehicle statutes.

The City of Gresham strongly advocated for the bill’s passage, listing it as a top priority for the current legislative session. Stolen vehicle cases doubled in Gresham after the Court rulings, from around 600 cases a year to more than 1,200 cases a year. Prior to the adverse Court rulings, stolen vehicle cases represented 4-5 percent of the Gresham Police Department caseload. After the rulings, it jumped to nearly 10 percent of the department’s caseload.

“We are extremely happy to see this bill pass the Legislature,” said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis. “It is insane to think that suspects could completely avoid any legal consequences by simply claiming ignorance, even in the presence of overwhelming evidence that they stole the vehicles.” He continued, “The spike in stolen vehicles put a horrible burden on our residents, often those experiencing the most economically vulnerability, who couldn’t get their kids to school and make it to work on time, and who suddenly found themselves facing impound and repair fees, or the cost of a new vehicle.”

Legislators from East Multnomah County helped champion the bill. Senate President Pro Tempore, Laurie Monnes-Anderson (D, Gresham) was a Chief Sponsor, along with Representatives Carla Piluso (D, Gresham), and Janelle Bynum (D, Clackamas). Representative Chris Gorsek (D, Troutdale) was also a Regular Sponsor of the bill.

“I regularly heard from constituents that this issue was at the top of their lists, and I am extremely happy that we were able to fix the issue in this legislative session,” said Monnes-Anderson. “This was a high priority for me because it hit hard-working residents the hardest and was deeply disruptive to their households, neighborhoods and our community livability.

Piluso, who serves as the Co-Chair of the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Public Safety Subcommittee, where the bill was referred, also celebrated its passage. “As a former Police Chief, I saw first-hand how destabilizing it can be to have a vehicle stolen,” Piluso said. “Many families depend on their car for work, school and daily life. I am extremely happy that we were able to push the bill over the finish line.”

Bynum also serves on the Joint Ways and Means Public Safety Subcommittee, as well as the House Committee on the Judiciary, where HB 2328 made its first stop. “I have had my eye on this bill throughout the session, knowing how important it is for my constituents,” Bynum said. “The most commonly stolen vehicles are older model sedans, which means that this bill will help households that are already facing the most economic strain.”

Gorsek, a former police officer who also supported the bill as a member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, celebrated its passage. “East Multnomah County got hit particularly hard when the legal burden changed for stolen vehicle cases, which means that we stand to gain the most by fixing the law,” Gorsek said. “This is a small change to statute that will have a big impact in our community.”