Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is using his powers to waylay some of the effects of a recently passed Senate Bill that he says effectively stacks the deck against the people's right to veto legislative tax increases.
The Oregon Constitution requires that after the Legislature passes a tax increase, the people shall have the power to veto that increase through the referendum process. Those who object to the increase have 90-days to collect enough signatures to put the issue to public vote.
In July of this year, the Democrat-heavy Legislature passed Senate Bill 229 which Republican Richardson says avoids the existing referendum process in several important ways.
"First, it moved the referendum date from the November 2018 general election to a special election on January 23, 2018; second, it removed the Attorney General’s authority to write the ballot title and gave that authority to a partisan legislative committee; third, it removed the authority to write an explanatory statement from a balanced, nonpartisan committee and gave that authority to a partisan legislative committee; and forth, it instructed the Secretary of State to create a timeline for the special referendum process." , says Richardson in a news release. The "partisan committee" Richardson refers to is officially a Joint Legislative Committee but, given the Democrat majority in the Oregon Legislature, he assumes Republicans will have little if any control over what that committee produces.
The Secretary of State has the authority under that same bill to control the special election timeline. The Elections Division, which is under Secretary Richardson, announced a process that would ensure ample time for public comment, legislative drafting, and Supreme Court review.
"The timeline gives the partisan legislative committee two and a half weeks to draft a ballot title. This is even longer than the Attorney General normally has to draft a ballot title. The proposed timeline also aligns with the Attorney General’s customary process of providing the important opportunity for the public to comment on the draft before it is finalized. After the period for public comment ends, the partisan legislative committee then has two weeks to review public comments, respond to criticism for partisan drafting, make necessary improvements to the language, and certify a final ballot title. Under today’s timeline, the Oregon Supreme Court has only five weeks for judicial review—a process which normally requires months."
According to Richardson, back in 2009, the legislature circumvented the customary process for writing ballot titles for Measure 66 and 67. For those Measures, only 33 hours were provided for public comment, then, 20 hours later the final ballot titles were passed. Then only a few weeks were allowed for Supreme Court review. Richardson says "This was insufficient time. It was a charade that violated the fundamental fairness of the democratic process. Today’s timeline corrects the 2009 inadequacies by providing adequate time for public participation and Supreme Court review."