May 27, 1999
LEGISLATURE HASHES OUT VICTIM-CENTERED BALLOT MEASURES
By Ashbel S. Green - of The Oregonian staff
Summary: Spurning Democrats' alternatives, Republicans move toward approving the measures, carved from Measure 40
The Oregon Legislature took an important step toward sending to the ballot eight measures backed by prosecutors and crime victims' groups.
The final vote on all eight proposed constitutional amendments is not scheduled until today, but the Republican-controlled House on Wednesday hinted at its support for the measures by turning back Democratic alternatives that sought to modify six of them in varying degrees. However, Democrats said they planned to put up a strong fight.
The eight measures -- which would limit bail, exclude unregistered voters from juries, expand police powers and make other changes to Oregon's criminal justice system -- are the individual pieces of Measure 40, a voter-approved initiative the courts threw out last year on procedural grounds for including too many constitutional amendments.
Supporters are seeking to correct the flaw by separating it into eight provisions.
The Democrats' alternatives contained some substantive differences, but overall, they said they were trying to stop supporters from cloaking a variety of changes to the criminal justice system with the politically appealing label of "victims' rights."
Rep. Jo Ann Bowman, D-Portland, said one measure would allow prosecutors to demand a jury trial even if the crime victim did not want one.
"It won't give victims rights," Bowman said. "It will give the state rights."
Supporters called Measure 40 the "victims' rights" initiative. Rep. Kevin Mannix, R-Salem, said the eight measures legitimately attempted to uphold that spirit by including a preamble on each about victims' rights.
Mannix's view on the label prevailed.
Today's vote will determine whether he will be equally persuasive on the substance.
Typically, votes on bills and their alternatives, called minority reports, are conducted on the same day. But Democrats said they withheld the necessary procedural votes to do so because Mannix would not agree to spread the measures out across two days.
Although the "victims' rights" label hung each of Wednesday's votes, several issues inspired impassioned debate.
House Joint Resolution 89, for example, would exclude felons and unregistered voters from serving on juries.
Bowman said HJR89 would prevent tax-paying citizens from serving on juries and would tend to exclude more minorities, who register to vote in fewer numbers.
"We have heard no legitimate reason from anybody why it must be registered voters," she said.
But Mannix said jurors -- who in some cases determine whether a convicted murderer should be sentenced to death -- should demonstrate that they at least care enough about their communities to register to vote.
As for minority representation on juries, "the way to get diversity is to go out and get people to register to vote," he said.
After rejecting the six minority reports, the House took a procedural vote to adopt the majority report, the precursor to a final vote. In each case, at least 40 of the legislators voted to adopt the majority report.
The vote provides a hint about the chances of the bills, although Rep. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, who sponsored each of the minority reports, said he had not given up.
Prozanski said his minority reports -- apart from the differences -- were legitimate attempts to make the measures cleaner and simpler and to remove the irrelevant "victims' rights" language. In some cases, he said, he did not even support the measures but wanted them to be better written.
For two of the measures, Prozanski decided not to offer alternatives. One would align the Oregon Constitution with the U.S. Constitution on search and seizure and immunity from prosecution. Prozanski said he wanted the choice to be even clearer.
The search-and-seizure measure is the most sweeping of the eight proposed ballot measures, wiping out 20 years of Oregon courts placing greater limits on police powers than the federal courts have.
Despite three hours of dispute, the House displayed one moment of unanimity. House Joint Resolution 87 would enact certain rights for crime victims, including the right to be consulted about plea bargains and the right to speak at sentencing.
After rejecting a minority report that was only slightly different, the House voted 57-0 for HJR87.
You can reach Tony Green at 221-8202 or by e-mail at Tonygreen@news.oregonian.com.