Representative Nancy Nathanson (D-Eugene) is a champion in the legislature of government efficiency. As Vice-Chair of the Joint Ways & Means Committee, which writes the state budget, the representative is constantly looking for ways to streamline government’s work to save the state money. To that end, she introduced HB 4091 to require the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to convene a workgroup to examine and develop recommendations around how the state can improve its systems for performing criminal background checks.

The redundancies and inconsistencies in our current system, she says, are costly to the state because employees must undergo multiple background checks within short periods of time. The ACLU does not dispute that the background check system we have now is overly complicated and, in some cases, unnecessary. Our advocacy in this area has always focused on the need to balance security precautions, privacy rights, and due process concerns in a reasonable and practical manner.

In an effort to jumpstart some of the anticipated savings, Representative Paul Holvey (D-Eugene), who co-chairs the House General Government and Consumer Protection Committee where the bill was first introduced, drafted an amendment to Rep. Nathanson’s workgroup bill that would have permitted the Oregon State Police to retain fingerprint cards for five years of persons who have undergone a criminal background check. Under current law, one that the ACLU fought very hard to include when a similar overhaul of this process occurred in 2005, fingerprints must be destroyed immediately after use in a criminal background check. Oregon is not and should not be a place that allows for our law enforcement agencies to maintain a central database of individuals who have never been convicted of a crime. Such a database would undoubtedly be tempting for use and potential misuse. Chipping away at this protection is a dangerous precedent to set. While we testified before the committee to our support of the workgroup, we strongly opposed this particular amendment. Co-Chair Holvey considered our concerns and decided not to adopt the amendment.

At our request, the committee did add adopt an amendment to HB 4091 that stated that a privacy advocate should be included in the work group. The ACLU will serve that function so as to ensure that these important privacy safeguards are protected going forward.  

WIN: HB 4091 passed without the amendment that would allow for retention of fingerprints.
    Vote: 60-0 (House); 29-0, 1 excused (Senate)