Oregon Sen. Frederick talks racial justice bills, reparations

Civic Affairs

Frederick is one of 12 members of Oregon Legislature's BIPOC Caucus

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After 2020 saw calls for social and racial justice after the death of George Floyd, the Oregon Legislature is seeing a number of bills addressing these issues.

State Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland) sat down with KOIN 6 News to discuss some of the bills he’s sponsoring as part of the Legislature’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Caucus.

Some of those bills coincide with dialogue among national lawmakers for similar issues, for example reparations.

“The African American folks who are, I think arguably, help build this country, in terms of slave labor, have not been able to really have the recognition or the financial support so that they can actually start things at a level playing field. So this is an attempt to try to deal with that,” Frederick said.

Three separate bills dealing with reparations are chiefly sponsored by Frederick:

  • SB 618 would direct Oregon Department of Administration to study the methods of providing reparations to Black Oregonians who are descendants of slaves.
  • SB 619 would direct Department of Revenue to establish a program to pay Black Oregonians who can demonstrate heritage in slavery.
  • SJM 4 would urge U.S. Congress to enact legislation to begin the process of implementing reparations for African Americans based on slavery and discrimination.

Nationally, President Joe Biden’s White House announced it supports studying reparations for Black Americans, though White House press secretary Jen Psaki stopped short of saying he would sign a bill for reparations if it were to pass Congress.

Another issue that Frederick is co-sponsoring a bill on is looking at revising the Oregon constitution to remove exceptions for slavery in the case of criminal punishment — and another bill that urges Congress to do the same for the 13th Amendment.

Frederick explained the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was the amendment that outlawed slavery; however, there is an exception written into the law for punishments for crimes. During the Jim Crowe era in the U.S., this exception was used as an excuse to arrest Black people for little or no cause in order strip them of their rights, Frederick said.

“They would arrest people for loitering when they were just walking down the street. Or they would arrest someone for shoplifting or some made-up charge,” Frederick said. “Once they arrested them, they no longer could vote, they no longer had the ability to act as a citizen.”

The issue is explored in a Netflix documentary called “13th,” which is also available in its entirety for free on YouTube.

“The recognition is that we actually have significant holes in our safety net that are specific to racial prejudice.”

Oregon Sen. Lew Frederick

SJM 2, which is being chiefly sponsored by Sen. Ron Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) and Sen. James Manning (D-Eugene) and has Frederick as a regular sponsor, would urge the U.S. Congress to amend the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to omit the clause excepting criminal punishment.

SJR 10, of which Frederick is one of the chief sponsors along with Manning and Wanger, would amend the Oregon Constitution striking similar exceptions for slavery and involuntary servitude as it relates to punishment for a crime. If passed, the amendment would prohibit forced prison labor in the state, Frederick said.

Frederick said a similar bill was brought to the Oregon Legislature by the late Sen. Jackie Winters (R-Salem) but it ultimately did not come to fruition.

Oregon’s Democratic U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley also co-sponsored a resolution to revise the 13th Amendment’s slavery exception, with the support of Democratic members of the House and Senate.

Frederick said he thinks there’s more political will nationally to address the issue of amending the 13th Amendment and abolishing forced prison labor after the murder of George Floyd by the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020.

“I think we have some political momentum to get some of those things done, on a number of levels, not just on this, but also in education, in housing, in healthcare, in economic development,” Frederick said. “All of those things are starting to come forward as things we knew need to address because the recognition is that we actually have significant holes in our safety net that are specific to racial prejudice.”

As one of the 12 members of the Oregon Legislature’s BIPOC Caucus, Frederick and his colleagues are hoping to address a number of other issues related to racial justice, such as police accountability, criminal justice reform, education, BIPOC healthcare access, and housing and homeownership, among others.

A full list of the caucus’s legislative agenda for 2021 and all of the bills associated with that is available on the Oregon Legislature’s website.

Frederick said when he started as a member of the Oregon House in the late 2000s, he was the only African American in that chamber, with then-Sen. Winters being the only African American in the Oregon Senate. Now, times have changed, with 12 people of color who are elected officials in Oregon’s Congress, in total.

“That means we’re actually starting to look at the issues of those communities in a way that we were not able to do before. Because those people hold chair, they’re the chairs of committees, they are bringing forward bills, they are discussing issues among their colleagues,” Frederick said.

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