Oregonian Says Bill to Criminalize Protest is Dead

Attempt to criminalize tweets that solicit law-breaking fizzles at Oregon Legislature

occupy crowd.JPG
Flash mobs that engage in criminal activity are the target of a bill that would make it illegal to electronically summon two or more people to a designated place to do something that is against the law. Critics say the bill, which appears dead, is aimed at preventing demonstrations such as Occupy Portland.

SALEM -- It was dubbed the "flash mob" bill when it got a hearing Monday at the Oregon Legislature -- a proposal to make it a felony to summon people by Twitter or email to commit a crime at a designated place.

Now it's more like flash-in-the-pan.

"It's dead," said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, the Eugene Democrat who, because he holds the gavel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, gets to decide such things.

Yet 11 Republicans and one Democrat signed onto Senate Bill 1534, which would have created the crime of "aggravated solicitation." And we're not talking street corners here.

Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, said he asked for the bill because he heard from retailers about being victims of flash mobs that steal stuff. It wasn't meant to stifle free speech, he said, but to bring law enforcement up to date with the modern era of social media and instant communication.

"If someone wants to bring a whole bunch of people to the Capitol to demonstrate, no problem," he said. "But if they're solicited to come to the Capitol at 9 p.m. to firebomb the place, that's a problem."

Critics say it's an unusual -- and dangerous -- incursion into the freedom to protest, not to mention tweet.

"I would expect a law like this is Myanmar, Turkmenistan, North Korea or Zimbabwe," said Dan Meek, a Portland attorney who testified Monday. Not, he said, at the Oregon Legislature.

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