Merkley’s bill passes

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley’s bill to increase penalties for harming protected migratory birds has passed out of committee.

Oregon’s junior Democratic senator introduced the Migratory Bird Treaty Act Penalty and Enforcement Act last November. Current law provides a misdemeanor penalty of up to $2,000 and two years in jail for each violation of intentionally harming or killing protected migratory birds. Merkley’s bill will make these crimes a felony and increase the maximum penalty to $50,000 and two years in jail.

The Environment and Public Works Committee passed the bill Wednesday.

In 2007, three Oregon men were convicted of unlawfully capturing, torturing and killing protected raptors. Each man had to pay a $4,000 fine and received a year of probation.

A news release from Merkley said that wasn’t sufficient punishment. He said it’s time for Congress to strengthen existing law and ensure the penalties for killing these rare birds are stiff enough to be a real deterrent.

Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, championed companion legislation, which the House passed last December.