A bill in the Oregon House of Representatives (HB 3268) would essentially abolish the death penalty in the state with only one exception—for terrorists who kill two or more people. At the same time, a major Oregon newspaper is asking lawmakers to send the issue to voters who twice reaffirmed the state’s death penalty laws.
Today, 32 people sit on death row convicted of aggravated murder such as killing a child under 12, a police officer on duty, more than one person, or a victim during a robbery or rape.
Under House Bill 3268, those crimes would be considered first-degree murder subject to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Only a terrorist attack killing two or more people would rise to the level of aggravated murder subject to death.
Proponents of the measure, introduced by Rep. Mitch Greenlink, a Portland Democrat, contend the death penalty costs twice as much as life sentences and poses problems in applying it equally to people convicted of similar crimes, according to an Oregonian article.
The Corvallis Gazette Editorial Board has made the call to send the issue to voters in a December editorial:
“The proposals under consideration are clever ways to get around the fact that it would take a vote of the public to outlaw the death penalty in Oregon. But it’s been decades since Oregonians voted on whether to retain capital punishment, and it’s possible (perhaps even likely) that public sentiment has changed on the topic since then. Why not just refer the question to voters instead of finding ways to work around the will of the electorate?”
Oregonians abolished the death penalty in 1914, brought it back in 1964, and voted twice since then to keep it. However, only two convicts who waived their appeals in the 1990s have been executed since 1964. Eight years ago, Gov. John Kitzhaber imposed a moratorium on the death penalty, which Gov. Kate Brown extended in 2015.
Capital punishment is legal in 31 states. Other states, such as New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, and Maryland, abolished the death penalty and imposed life sentences without parole.
In 2014, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on the death penalty and four years later, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, saying it resulted in racial bias. In 2014, a federal judge in California ruled the death penalty unconstitutional, describing it as arbitrary and plagued with delay.
Oregonians will wait and see what the 2019 Oregon Legislature does.