Oregon lawmakers won't touch Measure 11 minimums

SALEM, Ore. (AP) State lawmakers say they'll remove the most controversial provisions from a bill aimed at slowing the growth of Oregon's prison population.

After weeks of negotiations, lawmakers on Wednesday came out with a compromise plan that would not make any changes to Measure 11, a 1994 voter-approved initiative that created mandatory minimum sentences for certain violent crimes. Measure 11 had been a sticking point between advocates who want to reduce spending on prisons and those who support stiff mandatory sentences.

Rep. Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego, said the plan was "well-received" by Democrat and Republican lawmakers of both chambers.

"We are pretty confident it will pass," Garrett said in a media briefing Wednesday evening.

The latest plan would remove mandatory minimum sentences for some drug and property crimes established by Measure 57 in 2008. Among other provisions, it would expand eligible earned time for some inmates, which shortens prison sentences for offenders who display good behavior and participate in treatment programs.

If it passes, the money saved as a result of the measure would be reinvested into the local public safety systems.

The Joint Committee on Public Safety, created by legislative leaders to shepherd sentencing discussions, originally crafted a bill that would have eliminated Measure 11's mandatory minimum sentences for some violent offenses, including certain sex abuse, assault and robbery crimes.

The legislation was built on a 2012 report by the governor's Commission on Public Safety that found the state's growing prison population unsustainable in the long term. The commission's report said without changes, Oregon would need to build about 2,000 additional prison beds over the next decade, which would cost the state an estimated $600 million.

A group of district attorneys and tough-on-crime advocates strongly oppose any changes to Measure 11.

Earlier this month, a group of district attorneys suggested a compromise plan that included reducing penalties for marijuana charges and lowering prison sentences for other drugs offenses. The proposal was seen as a concession on the part of the district attorneys, who typically oppose reducing sentences for drug charges.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and other advocates have urged the Legislature to reduce the time that certain offenders spend in prison to flatten prison population growth and prevent the need for more space to house inmates.

Over the last 15 years, public safety spending in Oregon has sharply increased and now consumes a larger share of the state's budget, crowding out spending on education and human services, the commission report found.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.