Voters should have final say on Measure 11 changes

During the 2019 legislative session, the Oregon Legislature passed sweeping changes to sentencing rules for youth offenders during the 2019 legislative session. Senate Bill 1008 narrowly passed both the House and the Senate with bipartisan, but not unanimous votes.

The bill was signed by Gov. Kate Brown and became effective in September.

Senate Bill 1008 makes several fundamental changes to Measure 11, passed by the voters in 1994. Measure 11 established mandatory minimum sentencing for several crimes, such as aggravated murder, first degree rape, first degree robbery, first degree kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit murder among other crimes. The measure applies to all defendants 15 and over and requires youths charged with these crimes to be tried as adults.

Senate Bill 1008 relaxes laws adopted in Measure 11. Among the most significant changes, the law ensures that juveniles 15 and older aren’t automatically tried as adults for major crimes such as murder, rape and kidnapping. Instead, judges will have discretion to decide on an individual basis whether a defendant is to be tried as an adult.

The bill also makes juvenile offenders eligible for a “second look” parole hearing after serving half of their sentence and creates a system for certain youth to secure early release rather than being transferred from the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) to the adult prison system.

The measure garnered support from such odd bedfellows as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Koch Industries, retired judges, prison guards, the Oregon Department of Corrections and Attorney General Rosenblum.

While there was broad support for changes to Measure 11, the bill was contentious and there was disagreement on the best way to go about doing so.

I assisted in offering two alternative measures that maintained much of the base bill while seeking to uphold the will of the voters and ensure protections for crime victims and their families. One addition would have simply referred Senate Bill 1008 back to the voters for final acceptance or rejection. Another change would have been to limit the authorization of a second look hearing after serving half of a sentence for a juvenile who received a Measure 11 sentence of Robbery or Assault in the second degree only in instances that did not involve a firearm.

Lastly, I voted to provide funding to the OYA and county juvenile departments to provide youth offenders treatment and psychological evaluations.

However, the two alternative measures ultimately failed despite their bipartisan support.

I believe in and support many of the reforms in this new law. However, the bill that was passed could have been much better with some common-sense changes and with a referral to the voters who passed Measure 11 in the first place.

For those reasons, I could not support Senate Bill 1008 as passed. Several elements of the new law still require review and adjustment. An interim workgroup has been meeting since the passage of Senate Bill 1008 to address some of procedural problems created by the implementation of the new law.