SALEM — Hold on to your microbrews!
Drinking alcohol on Oregon’s public beaches would become a crime under a bill introduced Tuesday in the state Legislature.
House Bill 3441 would ban people from having either unopened or empty booze containers on the beach as well.
The new misdemeanor crime would be punishable by a maximum fine of $1,250 or 30 days in jail.
The proposal, sponsored by eight Democrats and one Republican, would be a big break from current law. Drinking generally is allowed on public beaches and in state parks in Oregon, except for areas where it specifically is banned, and signs are posted.
If passed, the change would come during the 50th anniversary year for the state’s landmark Beach Bill, passed in 1967 after being championed by the late Gov. Tom McCall. It guaranteed Oregonians “free and uninterrupted” use of the state’s beaches along the state’s 363-mile coastline, from the water up to 16 vertical feet above the low tide mark.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Janeen Sollman, a Hillsboro Democrat, said she introduced the bill at the request of a constituent who, for years, has been documenting the alcoholic beverage bottles and cans that are left on Oregon’s beaches.
That leftover debris creates safety and environmental problems, Sollman said, especially when it becomes buried in the sand.
“I’m not a party crasher … I don’t have a problem with people enjoying a drink,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that this will impact good people who have been doing it the right way.”
Sollman said her bill targets only alcoholic beverages because, she claimed, those are most frequently the containers that get left behind.
“I don’t think this littering is what Gov. McCall had in mind,” she said, referring to the Beach Bill.
The policy would mimic restrictions that are in place for many public beaches in California, although there are exceptions in that state.
In Oregon, federal officials banned alcohol in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area in 2003. The city of Seaside, meanwhile, bans consumption of any alcoholic beverages on beaches within city limits during the school spring break period.
Other sponsors of HB 3441 include Rep. Phil Barnhart, a Eugene Democrat, and Rep. John Lively, a Springfield Democrat. None of the bill’s sponsors are from coastal districts, however.
Rep. David Gomberg, a Democrat who represents the central coast, said he understands some of the motivation behind the bill.
Broken bottles and rusty cans are a big issue on Oregon’s beaches, he said, and “alcohol consumption on the beach in congested areas can lead to problems.”
But Gomberg was noncommittal on whether he could support the bill. He said he doesn’t have any concerns about “tasteful beach weddings with a celebratory toast or people who choose to enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine.”
Marcus Hinz, the executive director of the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, said Tuesday that he was completely unaware that the proposal was coming.
Hinz agreed that littering is “a huge problem” on Oregon’s beaches. But, he added, “there are already laws on the books about that. We invest a lot of time and energy into spreading the message of ‘Leave no trace.’”
While he declined to take a stance on HB 3441, Hinz acknowledged the policy change would be significant.
“Aside from a few local ordinances and state park bans here and there, Oregon’s beaches are otherwise free and open,” he said.
Sollman said the full-blown alcohol ban is needed because the state’s existing littering laws aren’t working and are hard to enforce.
She acknowledged that her concept has been met with skepticism by some of her fellow lawmakers. A similar effort to ban smoking on Oregon’s beaches in 2014 fizzled in the face of intense public opposition.
“I’ll admit, people have said: ‘Wait, this means I can’t drink at the beach anymore,’ ” she said.
But, Sollman added, “I’d like to protect the beaches for future generations.”