Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill intended to address concerns that easing some restrictions for youths charged with serious crimes will lead to the release of convicted killers like school shooter Kip Kinkel.
The provision passed Monday out of a subcommittee, and the Joint Committee on Ways and Means voted to approve an amendment Tuesday.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said the bill makes clear that Senate Bill 1008, already approved by both houses, does not apply to juvenile offenders sentenced before Jan. 1, 2020. The bill is awaiting Gov. Kate Brown’s signature.
Opponents argued that the bill is retroactive.
Prozanski, who championed giving more discretion to judges when dealing with juveniles, accused opponents of spreading misinformation in an attempt to defeat the changes.
“They were looking for anything to cause fear and concern so we decided to take away any ambiguity,” he said.
SB 1008 includes many changes to the juvenile justice system, including a provision that ends the automatic referral of juveniles facing Measure 11 charges to adult court.
Kinkel was 15 when he killed his parents in their Springfield home on May 20, 1998, then showed up the next day at Thurston High School with three guns hidden in his trench coat. He killed two classmates and wounded 24 others. Now 36, he is two decades into a nearly 112-year prison sentence.
Measure 11 is a mandatory minimum sentencing law approved by voters in 1994. It requires that anyone 15 to 17 who is arrested for certain crimes be charged as an adult. Measure 11 charges come with high bail and long prison sentences. Crimes covered by the law include sex offenses, murder, robbery and assault.
It does away with life without parole sentences for juveniles. Anyone convicted of a crime when they are younger than 18 will get a chance to seek parole after 15 years. Proponents say 21 states and Washington, D.C., also have eliminated life without parole for juvenile offenders.
According to the state, 15 offenders are serving life sentences for juvenile Measure 11 convictions; two are serving life without parole.
The bill also gives juveniles convicted of Measure 11 crimes the opportunity for a so-called “second look” hearing halfway through their sentences. A judge would consider whether offenders could serve the second half under community-based supervision instead of prison.