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Legislature’s test session comes to an end February 29, 2008

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Oregon lawmakers wrapped up a historic test drive of annual sessions Friday night by approving most of the budget and policy priorities laid out beforehand by leaders of both parties.

The 19-day session concluded at 9:40 p.m. after lawmakers ran through a stack of bills, including additional spending on human services, state police and land use and a ballot alternative to mandatory minimum prison sentences for property and drug offenders.

“This session addressed so many issues that were timely, and in the process, did some good things in other areas,” said House Speaker Jeff Merkley, D-Portland. “It demonstrates that an annual session can work well and be done in a timely manner.”

Lawmakers met for 172 days in the 2007 session.

Oregon is one of six states in which lawmakers still meet in regular session every other year.

“You will decide in your own way and in your own time what you tell the world about what we have done or not done here,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, an architect of what he called a “supplemental” session. “But one thing is for sure: We have made special history in Oregon, my Oregon.”

Sen. Fred Girod, R-Lyons, said he still was not convinced more frequent meetings are a good idea.

“A couple of positive bills came out,” said Girod, who moved over from the House last month. “Around-the-clock patrols by the state police do not take effect until the last month of the budget cycle, and we did get funding for a land-use review and changes in water policy.”

A gloomier-than-expected economic forecast Feb. 8 dampened spending expectations.

“But given those numbers, I think we did quite well,” said Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, a budget committee member who favors annual sessions.

The package of budget bills cleared both chambers with virtually no debate, except for a proposed University of Oregon basketball arena to be built with $200 million in state-backed bonds. It was approved.

Both chambers cleared an alternative to a pending anti-crime ballot initiative on votes of 23-7 in the Senate and 54-2 in the House.

Senate Bill 1087, which voters will decide Nov. 4, focuses on longer prison sentences for large-quantity drug dealers and repeat property offenders. It also will tie in drug treatment for inmates.

It would compete with an initiative by former state Rep. Kevin Mannix of Salem, who already has submitted about 150,000 signatures, 83,000 of which are required to qualify it for the Nov. 4 ballot. Mannix’s initiative would impose minimum prison sentences for first-time property and drug offenders.

“We need to take care of repeat property offenders,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the floor manager for the alternative. “But locking them up and then turning them loose is not going to break the cycle of addiction.”

If voters approve both, the measure with the greater number of votes will prevail.

Both will cost money, but the proposed alternative would cost less.

It would add a projected 1,400 inmates and $62 million to the Department of Corrections budget in 2009-11, plus $40 million for drug treatment. The cost would increase again in 2011-13.

Mannix’s initiative, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, would add 4,000 to 6,000 inmates and cost between $256 million and $400 million during the 2009-11 cycle.

The prison system now tops 13,000 inmates. That’s nearly double the population of early 1995, when minimum sentences for violent crimes took effect under 1994’s Measure 11, of which Mannix was the chief sponsor.

Girod said lawmakers had only one reason to consider the bill.

“It’s to torpedo the Mannix initiative,” he said.

A Republican attempt to substitute Mannix’s initiative for SB 1087 failed on a party-line vote, with only Sen. Avel Gordly, I-Portland, joining the 11 Republicans.

The alternative then passed the Senate, 23-7, with votes from four Republicans, including Winters. Republican Reps. Brian Boquist of Dallas and Kim Thatcher of Keizer were the lone dissenters in the House.

“We recognize the need for treatment of methamphetamine addiction,” Winters said afterward. “We cannot continue to recycle people in the system and build more prisons and jails.”

She said the bill dovetails with anti-meth efforts by a Marion County task force of which she is co-leader.



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