Please read the Guest Column written by Oregon Senator Betsy Johnson, (D–Scappoose) that appeared in the Daily Astorian newspaper.
Senator Johnson exposes the misuse of the “emergency clause” by the Oregon Legislature. She uses the vote on Measure 88 as the prime example of why bills should not have an emergency clause unless there is a true emergency.
Guest Column: Not everything is an emergency
By State Sen. Betsy Johnson
Published: May 21, 2015
Any law with an emergency clause is protected from the people’s veto power.
The Oregon Legislature is beginning to resemble a 9-1-1 call center. Almost everything is an emergency.
Increasingly these are the words you find in the House and Senate bills coming out of the Legislature: “An emergency is declared to exist, and this act takes effect on its passage.”
Any law with an emergency clause is protected from the people’s veto power. Voters cannot challenge it through the referendum process.
You might be surprised what constitutes an emergency. In this session so far, it includes bills like “banning the box,” which makes it unlawful for employers to ask job applicants to check a box if they’ve been convicted of a felony. Why would ex-felons’ job hunts constitute an emergency? There are many non-felons who endure extended job searches.
Or how about the “motor voter” law, HB 2177, which automatically registers licensed drivers to vote. What kind of an emergency exists that requires drivers to be automatically registered to vote?
Then there’s the recently approved gun law, SB 941, which requires licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks for private sales of legal firearms. (If you buy or sell on the black market, you’re exempt from this emergency.)
Soon to come is SB 822, an emergency bill requested by criminal defense attorneys, who want grand jury proceedings tape-recorded. Criminal defense attorneys, apparently, can’t wait to find out the identities of victims and witnesses.
At the rate we’re going, all bills will be deemed emergency acts. It will become routine. Perhaps that’s the point. If citizens complain that a controversial bill has been labeled an emergency to protect it from the people’s veto power, legislators can quell any suspicion by simply saying, “Most bills have an emergency clause.”
Voters still have some constitutional protection. Tax bills, for example, cannot be enacted as an emergency.
If you’re a citizen curious about the number of bills that were passed as emergencies in the last regular session, the information may not be readily available. If you call the legislative assembly office, they may direct you to the state legislature’s website and a section called “Citizen Engagement.”
There you’ll find a 190-page document called the “2013 Summary of Legislation.” One caller I know prowled through that, read the brief descriptions and effective dates of each bill that passed, and found that about half of the roughly 300 bills listed there were emergencies.
One bill that slipped through without an emergency clause was SB 833, and its fate is a lesson in why referendum power is important.
SB 833 allowed illegal immigrants to obtain driver cards. Since it wasn’t an emergency, opponents had 90 days after the end of the legislative session to exercise the power of referendum. They collected enough signatures from qualified voters and forced SB 833 onto the November 2014 ballot. As Ballot Measure 88, voters rejected driver cards for illegal immigrants by almost a 2-to-1 margin.
The people’s veto power exists for a reason. It serves as a check on legislators who can become so focused on what happens inside the state Capitol building that they forget there’s an entire state outside the door.
We work in a grand, majestic building. It’s open to the public. But once the legislature is in session, a legislator’s time is often consumed talking to other legislators and lobbyists. We don’t always notice things like emergency clauses and whether they are really needed. Some of my bills have carried emergency clauses.
Our state’s frequent use of the emergency clause is not unique.
Former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, concerned about similar abuse in her state, began vetoing emergency clauses on bills, leaving intact the rest of the legislation. One of her first such vetoes was an emergency clause on a bill adding porphyria to the list of disabilities for special parking privileges.
The Olympian newspaper praised her in an editorial: “The Legislature’s overuse of the emergency clause should incense the public because it takes away their right to reject laws adopted by the Legislature. Where’s the outrage?”
Oregon’s constitution also allows the governor to veto an emergency provision in new bills without affecting the rest of the bill.
Governor Kate Brown should use this power. As Secretary of State, she pushed for the “motor voter” bill, ostensibly to make it easier for more voters to exercise their right to vote.
The emergency clause does exactly the opposite.
It takes away the people’s right to vote.
Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, represents District 16, covering Clatsop and Columbia counties and parts of Multnomah, Tillamook and Washington.
The people’s veto power exists for a reason.
From: The DailyAstorian
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