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Seeking relief for the family of St. Helens' Jennifer Warren

By Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie

This session I introduced a bill to address what I felt was a gross inequity in current statute, namely some provisions of the Oregon Tort Claims Act.

HB 2644 allows claims for wrongful death against the state in a narrow set of circumstances, more precisely probably only one, that of my deceased constituent Jennifer Warren of St. Helens. The claim is only allowable against the state and not for claims against local public bodies. 

Jennifer was working for a nonprofit when, as part of her job, she attempted to deliver medication to her assailant who killed her. As such, Jennifer’s death constituted a workers’ compensation claim against her employer. Her death was compensated in the amount of $16,000.

At the time she was attacked, Jennifer’s assailant was under court-ordered supervision by the state of Oregon’s Psychiatric Security Review Board. It was an established fact that her murderer was capable of extreme violence. I would argue that under no circumstances should the state have allowed him unguarded contact with Ms. Warren, or anyone else for that matter.

But the state did, and Ms. Warren died as a result. Her death was not an accident. She died from an attack by someone who supposedly was under state supervision. Hers was a wrongful death, for which the state of Oregon was immune from liability because of the Oregon Tort Claims Act.

HB 2644 fixes the anomaly whereby the state of Oregon enjoys immunity due to the fact that Jennifer’s employer had workers compensation insurance. This bill will finally bring an element of justice for Jennifer Warren’s family.

For some, the struggle

to be free continues

As you know, a couple of weeks ago, the nation acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the March on Selma, Alabama, and we were reminded just how much was accomplished by those brave people who challenged the status quo. And sometimes, when I study some of the legislation before us, I am reminded that there are still those who are struggling to be free from society’s pressure to be something they are not. This may be particularly true of children who must conform to expectations, some necessary and beneficial, while others are misguided and destructive.

Such is the case with a practice called “conversion therapy.” This is a treatment developed in the 1950s that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or sense of gender identity. Needless to say, we have learned a lot over the past 65 years that makes this practice no longer acceptable. As a result, HB 2307 was introduced to prohibit mental and social health care professionals from providing conversion therapy to persons less than 18 years of age. We now know that therapies of this nature can result in life-long psychological damage, often ending in suicide. 

On Tuesday, March 17, the House passed HB 2307 on a 41-18 vote, and I was one of the supporters.