Kevin Mannix's latest attempt to toughen Oregon's criminal justice system gets it half right.
But the half of Measure 73 that goes astray, unfortunately, is the half Oregon can't afford.
We urge voters to reject the measure on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Mannix has persuaded voters before. In 1994 Oregonians passed his Measure 11, which requires mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of any of 16 felonies.
But Mannix should have split Measure 73 into two parts.
We would enthusiastically endorse the part that requires a minimum jail
sentence of 90 days for anyone convicted of driving drunk in Oregon
three times in a 10-year period.
Under current state law, the first three convictions for drunken
driving are misdemeanors. A fourth conviction is a felony, but there's
no mandatory minimum prison sentence.
That's too lenient for a crime that kills dozens of innocent people every year.
The other part of Measure 73 involves offenses designated as "major felony sex crimes."
Those are first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, first-degree unlawful
sexual penetration, and using a child in a display of sexually explicit
Measure 73, if approved by voters, would set a mandatory minimum
sentence of 25 years for anyone convicted, for the second time, of a
major felony sex crime.
This sounds appealing.
Until, that is, you understand that Oregon already takes a pretty harsh
view toward people who commit heinous sex crimes, and that most are
already sentenced to long prison terms.
If you're convicted of one of those major felony sex crimes now, you'll
spend at least five years and 10 months in prison, guaranteed.
Most people, though, get considerably longer sentences. The average for
people convicted of any of those four sex crimes is 17 years.
And that's the penalty for a first conviction - you don't have to be a repeat offender to draw the mandatory minimum sentence.
But even though Measure 73 would not make a drastic difference in how
long sexual deviants spend in prison, its price tag is significant.
The Secretary of State's office estimates that enforcing the measure
would cost Oregon between $43.4 million and $63.6 million for the first
four years, then between $18 million and $29 million per year
That's a steep tab for a state that's bracing for a $3.2 billion
shortfall in the two-year budget period that starts July 1, 2011.
Even gubernatorial foes John Kitzhaber and Chris Dudley, who might
quibble about the shade of ink used to print state documents, agree
that Measure 73 is too expensive.
Mannix had a much easier sell back in 1994, when Oregon clearly was failing to adequately punish sexual predators.
Voters cured that by passing Measure 11. It, too, was expensive. But on
the positive side of the ledger, law enforcement officials credit the
measure's mandatory minimum sentences with contributing to a decline in
Measure 73, by contrast, is at best a small step forward in terms of punishment.
But it's a giant leap in cost, and one Oregon simply can't clear.