SALEM — One-by-one, lawmakers on Thursday came to the side of the House floor to offer their condolences to the family of Kaylee Sawyer, the Bend woman murdered in 2016 by a Central Oregon Community College security guard.
Moments before, the House had unanimously approved Senate Bill 576, known as “Kaylee’s Law.” It was the final legislative step for the bill meant to remedy some of the issues that may have led to Sawyer’s murder.
The bill goes to Gov. Kate Brown, who said Thursday that she looks forward to signing the bill into law.
SB 576 requires campus security forces to change the appearance and use of their vehicles, equipment and uniforms so they cannot be confused for law enforcement.
In a sometimes quavering voice, Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, a chief co-sponsor of the bill, rose to tell lawmakers how the confusion likely led to Sawyer’s abduction, rape and murder.
“In July of 2016, Kaylee was walking … when she was approached by a car belonging to Central Oregon Community College campus security,” Helt said. “The car looked very much like a police vehicle and when the driver offered her a ride, Kaylee got in. This car was an image that conveys safety and help.”
The bill requires video, GPS or two-way dispatch radio in vehicles so that campus security supervisors can know where their units are at all times and what is going on inside vehicles. It mandates nationwide background checks of individuals employed as campus security officers, and bars them from doing “stop and frisk” searches.
“It’s important that students and the public at large are able to differentiate between campus security officers and police officers,” Helt said. “Campus security officers provide an important service in keeping our students safe, and I want to honor the work of these professionals. At the same time, we need to make sure these lines are not blurred, but rather clear for all to see at first glance.”
Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, and a chief co-sponsor of the bill, said Sawyer’s death shows mistaken identity could be fatal.
“The tragedy of Kaylee Sawyer shows what happens when things go horribly wrong,” Barker said. “Only a police officer should look like a police officer.”
While the bill has the backing of Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and law enforcement agencies throughout the state, Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, said it would not be possible without Sawyer’s family stepping up to champion the legislation, even though testifying in Salem meant enduring repeated descriptions of her brutal death.
Zika called on the House to vote together to send the bill to Brown.
“Today, we are not Republicans or Democrats,” Zika said. “We are parents. Families that have lost a loved one. Oregonians that do not want a tragedy like this to happen again.”
After the vote, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, announced the bill had passed. All the House members turned toward the Sawyer family and applauded. Then, many left their desks to pass by, shake hands and share a few words.
Jamie Sawyer, Kaylee’s father, said he appreciated the respect the House and Senate had shown his daughter’s memory and the way they treated the family at every step.
“This is very satisfying,” he said. “The enormity of it all is overwhelming.”
Crystal Sawyer, Kaylee’s stepmother, said each of several trips to the Capitol to support the bill were rough, but worth it.
“We will always be here for Kaylee,” she said.
By coincidence, the House floor session Thursday started just as a celebration of the Capitol’s Tribal Day began in the rotunda. The drums and chanting echoed through the rotunda and could be heard through the walls of the chamber.
Kaylee Sawyer was an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and great-great-great-granddaughter of Chief Joseph Four Bears.
In the balcony, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel was sitting near Jim Walden, Sawyer’s maternal grandfather. Hummel said Walden choked up at the sound. The drumming, Walden told Hummel, was a sign “her spirit was in the building.”
Former COCC security guard Edwin Enoch Lara is serving a life sentence for Sawyer’s murder.
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, email@example.com .
— Bulletin reporter Garrett Andrews contributed to this story.