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Put death penalty to a vote

A potentially flawed law passed by the 2019 Legislature that limits the death penalty will take effect without a fix, potentially allowing already convicted death-row inmates to avoid execution if they are retried or re-sentenced after appeals. That’s not what the Legislature intended, and it’s unfortunate that lawmakers could not agree to amend the bill in a special session.

Gov. Kate Brown had said she would call a special session to amend the bill if lawmakers could agree on a fix. Bill supporter Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said he had agreement in the Senate, but House leaders could not line up enough votes.

Oregon voters reinstated capital punishment by constitutional amendment in 1984 after the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.

Majority Democrats this year narrowed the definition of aggravated murder — the only crime punishable by death in this state — to include only terrorist acts that kill two or more people, killing police officers or children younger than 14.

Supporters of the bill intended it to apply only to new cases going forward, but the state Justice Department issued an opinion saying the new law could apply to previously convicted defendants who were granted a new trial or re-sentencing.

There are compelling reasons to abolish the death penalty. But that debate needs to involve all Oregon voters, not just lawmakers. Trying to restrict the death penalty by redefining aggravated murder is fraught with problems, as this mess illustrates.

Death penalty opponents should put the matter to the people, and make the case to voters.