The Oregon Constitution provides the people the right to
petition to refer newly passed laws to the ballot for
the voters to decide. This constitutionally reserved
right creates a powerful curb on legislative authority
by the people. A law is essentially returned to the
status of a bill to be decided as a ballot measure by
the majority of the voters when enough valid signatures
are obtained for successfully referral. Once referred,
no provision of the law can be enforced until it is
repassed by the people at a general election.
Conversely, if the people vote to reject the measure the
law is null and void.
SB 833 was one of the most contentious and heavily
debated bills considered during the 2013 legislative
session. The bill authorized the Department of Motor
Vehicles to issue “driver cards” to certain individuals
who are not legally present in the United States.
Logical and cogent arguments were made both in support
and in opposition to SB 833. I voted no on the bill
because I believe the arguments in opposition are much
more compelling than the reasons to support the
The measure passed both legislative chambers with
bipartisan support and was signed into law by Governor
John Kitzhaber. A number of citizens and two Legislators
lead an effort to initiate a referendum petition to
refer the new law to the voters to decide. The
petitioners obtained more than enough signatures on
their referendum petition to place the law to the
November 2014 ballot.
The ballot title and statements of explanation are
extremely important because their wording often
determines the outcome of the vote. Statute provides
that petitioners may request the wording for the ballot
title and statements of explanation. However, the Oregon
Attorney General ultimately is responsible for writing
fair and equitable wording. The wording by the Attorney
General can be appealed by any citizen to the Oregon
Supreme Court. The Justices can either uphold the
wording or return it to the Attorney General with
instructions for writing more equitable language.
The referral of SB 833 to the people already has a
ballot title and explanatory statements written by the
Attorney General. That wording has been duly challenged
and is now under review by the Oregon Supreme Court
A group of House Democrats, including Speaker Tina Kotek,
have introduced House Bill 4054 for the sole purpose of
replacing the Attorney General’s selected ballot title
by legislatively rewriting the ballot title and its
explanatory statement. In fact, the bill arrogantly
states in part that the ballot title provided and
certified by the Attorney General is “void” and that any
review of the ballot title prepared by the Supreme Court
is “moot and terminated”.
Moreover, HB 4054 has an emergency clause attached that
legally prohibits its referral by the people. Further,
the bill precludes judicial review of the legislatively
written ballot title and explanatory statement. Finally,
the wording of the title creates voter confusion by
requiring a no vote to vote in favor of abolishing the
The Oregonian Newspaper has been and remains a strong
supporter of SB 833. However, it recently editorialized
that the legislative attempt to rewrite the referendum’s
ballot title is “a breathtakingly cynical move that
would taint the very law they’re trying to preserve. To
vote for a referendum doctored in this fashion would be
to endorse an abuse of process. Rather than resorting to
such a ploy, Kotek and company should accept the ballot
title that emerges from the state Supreme Court’s
review, which is currently underway, and do their best
to win the support of voters”. I completely agree
with that statement. We must support the rule of law
regardless of our support or opposition to SB 833.
This is not the first time that the state Legislature
has taken this kind of action. Most recently in 2010, a
Democrat supermajority wrote their own ballot titles and
explanatory statements for the referrals to the people
of the significant tax increases found in Measures 66
and 67. Those titles and explanations were carefully
worded to favorably influence the outcome of the vote.
Their 2010 bill also precluded review by the people, the
Attorney General and the Courts.
Our government is not a monarchy where citizens are
subject to imperial rule. It is a Constitutional
Republic founded on the rule of law. HB 4054 has been
placed on our Senate “bad bill list” at my request. To
their great credit, all Republicans and at least one
Democrat Senator have pledged to support the rule of law
and emphatically vote no on the bill even though many of
them supported SB 833 and will likely vote against the
For that principled reason, it now appears that the HB
4054 will be defeated if it reaches the Senate floor.
However, Oregonians should not forget the arrogant
attempt being made to usurp their constitutional right
to review the work of their Legislature.
Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon
no one will.