Willamette Week | By Nigel Jaquiss
Published February 14 at 5:22 PM; Updated February 14 at 5:28 PM
Ruling invalidates 2017 law that reduced sentences without required two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
A three-judge panel today spanked Oregon lawmakers, calling the logic they used last year to reduce prison sentences for repeat property-crime offenders “counter-intuitive at best and duplicitous at worst.”
The three Clackamas County Circuit Court judges rolled back a law passed last year in the Oregon Legislature, saying it failed to meet the threshold of support mandated by voters nearly a decade before.
The effect of the ruling—if it’s not appealed—would be longer sentences for some convicted criminals and a budget hole of $10 million for the two-year cycle.
The three Clackamas County Circuit Court judges laid out a clear description of what happened.
In 2009, voters approved Measure 57, which increased prison sentences for certain property crimes, such as burglary and identity theft.
Legislators then delayed the implementation of Measure 57 from 2010 to 2012 because the state could not afford the cost of imprisoning more people for longer periods during the Great Recession.
Measure 57 did go into effect. But then in 2017, a simple majority of lawmakers passed House Bill 3078, which reduced the penalties for certain property crimes—in effect rolling back some of the provisions of Measure 57.
Last year, three Clackamas County residents, Mary Elledge, Deborah Mapes-Stice and John Foote (who is the Clackamas County District Attorney but was acting in a private capacity) filed a lawsuit arguing that House Bill 3078 was unconstitutional.
The reason: In 1994, voters approved Measure 10, which said lawmakers could not reduce voter-approved sentences unless two-thirds of the members of each chamber voted to do so.
House Bill 3078 did not meet that standard: It got 33 votes in the House (it needed 40) and 18 in the Senate (it needed 20). Nonetheless, Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law on Aug. 8, 2017.
Judges Susie Norby, Michael Wetzel and Thomas Rastetter ruled today that the bill should never have become law.
“We unanimously conclude that a 2/3rds majority vote of the Legislature was required to enact the sentence reduction provisions of HB 3078,” the judges wrote in their opinion. “The sentence reduction provisions of HB 3078 are unconstitutional and [Measure] 57 sentences remain in effect.”