The Oregon Legislature’s session that started Monday is limited to 35 days, but lawmakers should be able to find time to pass Ezra’s Law.

That’s the unofficial name for House Bill 4122.

It would make it more likely that people who physically harm their victims to the extent that the damage is permanent will be punished appropriately.

The bill’s namesake is Ezra Jerome Thomas, a 4-year-old boy from Madras. When Ezra was 2, his mother’s then-boyfriend, Josue Jair Mendoza-Melo, beat Ezra, leaving the toddler unable to breathe on his own and reliant on a wheelchair.

Mendoza-Melo was convicted of attempted murder and criminal mistreatment and sentenced in September 2019 to 12 years in prison, with the possibility of parole.

Ezra’s Law would include the potential imposition of a penalty more commensurate with the kind of life-altering crime that Mendoza-Melo committed — non-reversible effects that in Ezra’s case could last for the better part of a century.

The law would call for a 25-year prison sentence, with no parole, for a person convicted of committing assault or attempted murder that causes permanent physical damage.

The idea is similar, but not identical, to Oregon’s Measure 11, a law passed by voters in 1995. Measure 11 sets mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain felonies, including murder and other violent crimes.

Ezra’s Law, unlike Measure 11, would give judges some discretion in sentencing. Judges could eschew the 25-year sentence, for instance, for defendants who haven’t been previously convicted of a similar crime, or if there are significant mitigating factors. Judges could also allow for the possibility of parole.

That’s a reasonable amount of latitude to give a judge.

But Ezra’s Law also would make it possible for a judge to punish criminals such as Mendoza-Melo in a more appropriate way. The reality that he’s likely to be freed from prison before Ezra graduates from high school, is an affront to the concept of justice.

It’s understandable that we generally reserve the most severe penalties for people who take someone’s life. But Ezra’s Law recognizes the unfortunate reality that sometimes victims, even though they survive, can never recover some of what was taken from them.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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