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Measure 57 Delayed To Ease Oregon Budget Pain June 29, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Oregon lawmakers agreed Saturday to release public safety agencies from substantial cuts but postpone most requirements of a voter-passed law mandating longer sentences for repeat drug dealers and property offenders.

The 18-month postponement of Measure 57 won’t take effect until early next year and is expected to save $25.5 million. Lawmakers also increased earned, good-time credit for some nonviolent offenders, saving about $6.5 million.

That helps get the public safety budget for 2009-11 to $1.3 billion, a 7 percent drop from 2007-09.
Facing Tuesday’s deadline to wrap up this year’s session, the Senate spent hours Saturday debating budgets, education policy and other matters. Tempers were frayed as the end of the difficult session nears.
But senators spent less than 15 minutes politely debating House Bill 3508, the product of months of negotiations over how the state can keep prison costs down while honoring the intent of Measure 57, approved by voters last year.

The law requires longer sentences for repeat property thieves and drug offenders. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission estimated that it would cost the state $60 million over the next two years.

Critics pointed out that the Legislature itself put Measure 57 on the ballot as an alternative to an even stricter sentencing measure.

“The voters passed it,” said Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton. “The last thing we should do is go back on what we agreed to do.”

Because the Legislature is suspending a voter-passed law, both chambers needed a two-thirds majority to go along. The Senate voted 22-8 in favor of the delay Saturday, following the 40-19 vote in the House on Friday. In both chambers, the Democratic majority needed Republican votes to make the change.

“In many ways, this deal is historic because it’s very rare that the Legislature chooses to be smart on crime rather than just tough on crime,” said Rep. Chip Shields, D-Portland, one of the proponents of the Measure 57 delay. “Public safety is about more than just prisons. It’s about putting troopers on the road and funding forensic labs, and drug and alcohol treatment.”

The budget spares the Oregon State Police so that the state can hire enough troopers to maintain 24/7 coverage; keeps a youth correctional facility in Burns open; and pays for drug and alcohol treatment programs along with forensic labs. All were slated for cuts if the sentencing law had not been suspended.




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