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Senator Doug Whitsett
R- Klamath Falls, District 28

Phone: 503-986-1728    900 Court St. NE, S-303, Salem, Oregon 97301
Email: sen.dougwhitsett@state.or.us
Website: http://www.leg.state.or.us/whitsett
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E-Newsletter  2/27/14

Support Oregon's Rule of Law


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 legislation.

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 Justices.

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 law.

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 referendum.

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.

Best Regards,





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