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'Kerry Repp Act' gets committee hearing

SALEM ' The Senate Rules Committee will hold a hearing in Ashland today to discuss a bill that would toughen the penalties for crimes against pregnant women.

Known as the Kerry Repp Act, the legislation would increase penalties for homicides and assaults against a pregnant woman. Killing a pregnant woman would constitute aggravated murder, which is punishable by death.

Repp, 29, was shot four times with her husband's handgun while trying to make a 9-1-1 call. Gary Marvin Repp Jr. was acquitted of the murder in March.

The committee, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, will also take up Gov. Ted Kulongoski's nomination of a former Ashland legislator to serve on the state's Environmental Quality Commission.

Judy Uherbelau, a Democrat, was elected to the House in 1994 and served until 2000, when she was knocked out by term limits. She ran again in 2004 after the Oregon Supreme Court struck down the term limit law, losing to Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, in the May 2004 primary.

— The committee is expected to recommend Uherbelau's confirmation to the full Senate.

The hearing will be held in the Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St., beginning at 6:30 p.m. It's one of dozens of hearings on various issues being held in communities around the state.

Brown urged Jackson County residents to attend the hearing and testify on any of the issues.

This is our way of making the legislative process more accessible to Oregonians, and not just to special interests, Brown said.

The chairwoman also plans to meet Friday morning with Elisabeth Zinser, president of Southern Oregon University.

Repp, who died May 4, 2002, was pregnant with her third child. Forensic analysts determined that she was shot in the back of the head while on the phone in the bedroom of the couple's Central Point home.

Repp's parents, Ron and JoeAnn Johnson of Medford, have been pressing for harsher penalties and have lobbied tirelessly for such a bill.

The Johnsons have filed a lawsuit against the city of Medford, alleging negligence in the handling of their daughter's 9-1-1 call to the city's Central Communications dispatch center.

They contend the dispatcher disconnected the call after 17 seconds in violation of local and national standards, and no officer was dispatched as required in such situations.

The suit seeks &

36;2.1 million in damages.

Brown said the committee may also review a companion bill that would collect data on domestic violence fatalities.

Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-OR, is a member of the Rules Committee. Also expected to attend is Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland.

Don Jepsen is a freelance writer living in Salem.