A bill that would reform juvenile justice and reform mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed by youth under the age of 18 passed 20-10 out of the Oregon Senate Tuesday. It now faces a vote before the state’s House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 1008 merged four separately introduced criminal justice bills into one. If passed it would trigger additional review before transferring youth offenders from the Oregon Youth Authority to the Oregon Department of Corrections after they turn 18; would limit life sentences for offenders under the age of 18; and would curb mandatory adult sentencing of minors for certain offenses.
The majority of ‘nay’ votes came from Senate Republicans and the bill had strong Democratic support, but had some champions on the right side of the aisle: Sen. Jackie Winters (R-Salem), has been a vocal champion of the bill’s reforms, and Sens. Dennis Linthicum (R-Grants Pass) and Dallas Heard (R-Roseburg) cast yes votes as well.
“How we treat our children is our hallmark,” Winters said shortly before the Tuesday vote. “There should be an opportunity for those to have that chance to better their lives. They should have the opportunity to grow and become better members of society.”
Senate majority leader Peter Courtney gave emotional testimony before the vote, saying that when he was young, he was involved in “some things that could have been a Measure 11 [offense],” but was given a second chance by adults who believed in him and told him their expectations were high.
“There’s something about the criminal justice system and people that choose to commit wrongs that really fascinates me. And I finally realized what it was: you’re just like ‘em, Peter,” Courtney said.
Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby) expressed concern that the will of the voters, who passed Measure 11 in 1994 with 66 percent of the vote, was being overturned. Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) countered that by pointing out that Measure 17, passed by Oregon voters the same year, authorizes the legislature to amend bills passed by voter referendum with a two-thirds majority of the vote.