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Lawmakers Reach Public Safety Budget Compromise

June 30, 2009

SALEM, Ore. - The "will of the voters" had to bend a little over the weekend to accommodate Oregon's budget woes, as the Senate passed a major public safety measure, HB 3508, now headed for the governor's desk. It's a major compromise for those who voted for Measure 57 in November, to increase penalties for repeat offenders and boost drug and mental health treatment. Lawmakers decided the state doesn't have enough money to fund it all at once, so opted for a phase-in that keeps from having to cut other public safety programs.

That approach makes sense to David Rogers, who heads the Partnership for Safety and Justice.

"The larger bill also allows the Legislature to protect vital public safety agencies from being cut, in terms of their budgets. So, the Oregon State Police, Oregon Youth Authority, Community Corrections, will be spared budget cuts."

At first, the bill was seen as doing the opposite of what voters wanted when they approved Measure 57. But the compromise required a two-thirds majority vote in both House and Senate, so Rogers says it obviously had bipartisan support.

"The Legislature recognized that there were a number of reforms that they could pass that were safe and sensible – actually improved public safety – while saving the corrections-spending dollars."

The compromise bill was opposed by district attorneys, who don't feel it will be tough enough on repeat offenders. Rogers disagrees, saying the state budget shortfall has changed the playing field, and that Oregon should be working to decrease its prison budget.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR