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Deschutes County leaders join others in Salem to discuss Measure 110 reforms on opening day of legislative session

(Update: adding video, comments by Deschutes County commissioners Chang, Debone, and Adair)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Leaders of Deschutes and other counties from across the state gathered in Salem on Monday, the opening day of the Oregon Legislature's 35-day short session, as Association of Oregon Counties representatives discussed the details of proposed changes and reforms to much-criticized Measure 110.

Deschutes County commissioners Tony DeBone, the county's AOC representative, and Patti Adair traveled to Salem for the session, while colleague Phil Chang attended virtually.

Measure 110 was just part of what county officials addressed in their Salem meeting, among many issues before lawmakers such as housing and public health.

A package of proposed reforms was assembled late last year by the League of Oregon Cities in collaboration with Oregon's sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys. Deschutes County commissioners sent a letter supporting that package, but there are differences of opinion on specific components among commissioners.

According to Chang, the goal of Monday's meeting was for county commissioners from across the state to seek an agreement on what specifics to recommend to the Legislature on how to structure Measure 110 reforms in order to make them the most effective on reducing the sharply rising number of drug overdoses, especially fentanyl.

The drug and fentanyl crisis has spiked in Central Oregon, with seven suspected drug fatalities in January, four of them in a six-day period,  according to Deschutes County health officials. 

Since its enactment, Chang said, "Measure 110 has failed to drive individuals through treatment, and through these reforms, the goal is drive people to treatment, and support people through treatment." He also said the initial intention of Measure 110 was that "people are addicts, they're not criminals. They have a disease. We should treat it like a health condition."

The increase in overdoses statewide has created calls to make major reforms Measure 110, specifically with raising the punishment from a violation to misdemeanor. Chang says he agrees there should be criminal charges reintroduced, but there should be greater emphasis on treatment and less on punishment.

"The key components I'm looking for are adequate treatment capacity and appropriate mechanisms to get people into treatment and get them through that process, support them through that process," Chang said. "We need some level of criminal offense so that we can get people into the criminal justice system, and so that they have opportunities to be diverted out of the criminal justice system."

Much of Monday's conversation was centered around the debate over having that punishment for drug possession be a Class A misdemeanor, as Democrats have proposed, or more serious Class C misdemeanor, as Republicans support.

A Class C Misdemeanor generally carries a maximum punishment of 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,250. A Class A misdemeanor conviction carries up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $6,250. (In the middle, a Class B misdemeanor carries a maximum potential six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.)

DeBone said, "It all comes down to do we fund addiction services and outreach and beds? And/or fund a jail system or a public safety system which stops people in their addiction, so we can try to get them to recovery services? We just want to help people. We want to stop people, and then get them to help.”

Speaking briefly on the topic, Adair said she believes a Class C misdemeanor would be too soft a punishment, a view similar to opinions on the Class E Violation Measure 110 originally designated as punishment.

"I think when it's a Class A, it will be easier for law enforcement and for the DA's office to have a clear direction and actually accomplish something," she said. "Class C seems to be a bit of a, I would say, marshmallow."

The legislative short session began Monday and will continue for 35 days. In that time, negotiations will take place on that and other proposed changes related to Measure 110 and efforts to get those struggling with addiction help and curb the spike in drug overdoses, many fatal.

Article Topic Follows: Deschutes County

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Matthew Draxton

Matthew Draxton is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthew here.


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