Timing is wrong for Measure 73

October 09, 2010 05:00 am

What do drunken driving and serious sex crimes have in common? Nothing — aside, that is, from their coexistence in ballot Measure 73, which would create mandatory minimum sentences for both under certain circumstances.

Voters should give this one a big thumbs-down. While you could argue that sex offenders and drunken drivers should serve more time in jail, the offenses ought to be considered independently. Moreover, the proper place of this debate is the Legislature, where participants are forced to weigh the benefits of harsher sentences against the cost of imposing them. Given the condition of — and outlook for — Oregon's budget, this is one debate that can wait.

The measure's drunken driving language would make a third DUII conviction within 10 years a felony carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days in jail. Under current law, a third DUII conviction is a misdemeanor carrying no mandatory minimum sentence.

The sexual offense language, meanwhile, applies to particularly serious crimes, including first-degree rape and using a child in a sexually explicit display. Such offenses already carry mandatory minimum sentences ranging from almost six years to 25. Measure 73 would establish a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for second-time offenders, though it could affect some first-time offenders, too. These would be people convicted of multiple crimes in a single case.

We have no sympathy for the people this measure is intended to punish, and you could make a case that longer sentences are a good idea. But it's a case that ought to be made to legislators, who'll have to consider the cost, which could be as much as $14 million in the second year and as much as $29 million by the fifth year. That's not a huge amount of money, but it's money Oregon simply doesn't have. Just this week, in fact, the state announced plans to close a minimum-security prison in Salem and lay off dozens of people.

Finally, sentences for drunken drivers and sex offenders should be considered independently. The fact that Measure 73 arbitrarily lumps them together is, all by itself, a good reason to oppose it.