Heated rhetoric aside, two bills approved by the Oregon House of Representatives on Tuesday should shift the burden created by logging protesters against work on state forest lands back where it belongs, on the protesters themselves.
House Bills 2595 and 2596 were approved by substantial margins, with more than two-thirds of those voting supporting each of the bills. The first would create the crime of interference with state forestland management, while HB 2596 would allow private contractors to sue protesters for the cost of damage done to their equipment, lost employee wages, attorney fees and the like.
Despite the lopsided votes, the bills did raise concerns not only among environmental groups, but from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which worried that they would infringe on the free-speech rights of protesters. HB 2595 was amended to make clear that “communicative behavior” is only that behavior which creates a physical impediment to the work being done.
The bills make sense, though why they should apply only to work being done on state forestlands escapes us. Protesters, whether on state forestlands or in bank lobbies, should not be allowed to bring business to a halt in order to get their message across. And, while companies contracting with the state already can sue for damages, HB 2596 makes that right more explicit, according to an article in The Oregonian.
The two measures stem from the continuing protests over logging in the Elliott State Forest, located largely in Coos County. The Oregon Land Board, which is made up of the governor, secretary of state and treasurer, ordered a dramatic increase in the amount of logging, and thus the amount of revenue to the state Common School Fund, in the forest in late 2011.
Since then, the plan has been challenged in court, and lawsuits have brought delays and withdrawals of timber sales until the suits are settled.
It’s fine to disagree with the state’s plans for the Elliott and other state forests. It’s fine to protest. It’s not fine to damage private businesses conducting legal activities as a part of those protests. These bills make sense; they should get equally lopsided approval in the Senate.