A year before the deadline, Republican activist Kevin Mannix thinks he has enough signatures to qualify a measure for the November 2008 ballot to crack down on auto thieves, burglars, check forgers and identity thieves.
His initiative to impose mandatory minimum prison terms on those offenders would be an expensive.
Some lawmakers say they might propose a less costly approach when the Legislature meets for a one-month session next February.
Mannix, a former state lawmaker and GOP gubernatorial contender, was sponsor of Measure 11 passed by voters in 1994 that provides fixed prison terms for certain violent crimes, with no possibility of parole or probation.
Now Mannix is taking aim at property crime, saying that Oregonians are fed up with having their identities stolen, their homes burglarized and their vehicles swiped by criminals, many of whom do it to finance drug habits.
He said petition carriers just finished a seven-month effort to gather signatures for his initiative, which would establish mandatory sentences of 14 to 36 months for such crimes as identity theft, burglary, forgery, theft and manufacturing drugs.
"We will be double-checking the signatures, but we believe that we already have enough to assure that this qualifies for the November 2008 ballot," he said in an interview Friday.
Measure 11 has been credited with reducing Oregon's crime rates, although critics say it's overly tough on youth offenders and too expensive because of the new prisons it required.
Mannix estimates that his new property crimes initiative would cost the state an additional $125 million a year.
It would be money well spent, he said.
"We are a patsy state for property crime, because we slap these criminals on the wrist and give them probation most of the time," he said. "We need to do to property criminals the same thing we've done to violent criminals &
pull them off the streets."
Before the 2007 Legislature adjourned June 28, lawmakers approved spending a record $1.3 billion on the state prison system over the next two years.
House Majority Leader Dave Hunt said he and other lawmakers are worried about the potential costs and have begun looking for alternative, less expensive ways to take on Oregon's property crime problem.
The issue is expected to be a priority when lawmakers gather in Salem in February for a monthlong session that's part of the Legislature's experimental move to annual sessions, Hunt said.
"I am very hopeful that the Legislature will propose a moderate solution that addresses the core problem of property crime without bankrupting the state," the Gladstone Democrat said Friday.
Mannix doubts the Legislature will do much. He said he plans to spend next year campaigning for his initiative, which is being bankrolled largely by his longtime political patron, Nevada businessman Loren Parks.
"Politicians are either too cheap or too weak to do the job," Mannix said. "This is an area where the voters are going to have to speak loudly."
Mannix back, pushes property crimes crackdown