Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Ends Her Silence On Death Penalty Bill, But Has Made No Decisions

Brown says she is meeting with stakeholders on both sides and has staff reviewing legislative history of Senate Bill 1013.

In a group call with reporters today, Gov. Kate Brown broke her silence on Senate Bill 1013, the controversial legislation that was aimed at gutting Oregon's death penalty but instead sowed widespread confusion.

After Brown signed the bill into law, Oregon's Solicitor General Benjamin Gutman reversed his earlier position, as The Oregonian reported, and opined that the bill appeared to be retroactive, which meant it could result in sentence reductions for people previously convicted of aggravated murder.

That's a major problem—not just because the families of victims, victims' advocacy groups and prosecutors are outraged by the possibility of retroactive sentence reductions, but also because the Democratic supermajorities and the governor risk political damage from having apparently botched the reworking of a highly contentious issue.

The solictor general's reversal touched off chaos.

Initially, Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) and state Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland), the chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees and the prime movers of the bill, issued a joint statement saying  "we always intended and were advised (by counsel) that this bill did not apply to re-sentencing and is not retroactive."

But then the stances of the two lawmakers diverged. Prozanski asked Brown to call the Legislature into a special session to fix the mistake, while Williamson told The Oregonian that in fact and contrary to her earlier joint statement, the bill was written as she intended.

Throughout those events, Brown remained silent, but she addressed the issue today, first responding to whether she would call a special session.

"There is a lot of confusion," Brown said today. "I have asked my staff to review the record and listen to the hearings. At this point in time I don't have enough information to make a decision."

Brown noted that a moratorium she placed on executions remains in effect. She reiterated her personal opposition to the death penalty, which Brown called "unfair, ineffective and costly."

Brown defended her decision to sign the bill, noting that the solicitor general had not yet changed his mind when she did so. She said, however, that she does not believe the bill should be a basis to change previously issued sentences.

"I think everyone is clear, the law is not intended to be retroactive," Brown said. "My intention was that it was not retroactive."

Brown said she is meeting with stakeholders, including the Oregon District Attorneys' Association, which opposed the bill and has been highly critical of the subsequent fallout, and will consider all input before deciding what to do.

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