Oregon driver-card ballot title rewrite advances to Senate, referendum process comes under fire

Article author: 
Carol McAlice Currie
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Article date: 
Thursday, February 27, 2014
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Oregon Issues
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Despite repeated suggestions that the Oregon House of Representatives was thwarting the will of the citizens of Oregon, the House voted 36-24 Thursday to rewrite the ballot title of a November referendum.

House Bill 4054, which now goes to the Senate, would change the title’s language from “Provides Oregon resident driver card without requiring proof of legal presence in the United States” to “Establishes limited purpose, duration driver cards for individuals who prove Oregon residency, meet driving requirements.”

Lawmakers spent considerable time debating the bill. Many, including Republican representatives Kim Thatcher, Jason Conger, Sal Esquivel and Bruce Hanna, reasoned that residents of Oregon who hadn’t approved of the bipartisan Senate Bill 833 that was passed last year authorizing the driver cards, had used the people’s long-established process, and the House was now trying to subvert that effort.

“We’re tinkering with the process that was meant to get around us, the Legislature,” Conger said.

“We passed a law the people didn’t like. They jumped through all the hoops, made a good-faith effort and qualified it for the ballot,” said Esquivel. “We’re not letting the people exercise their rights.”

“It’s a slap in the face to those people who want to make their voices heard,” said Rep. Cliff Bentz.

But Democrat lawmakers such as Rep. Phil Barnhart countered by saying that the bill did not change any rules. He pointed out that many Republican-controlled Legislatures had changed the language of ballot titles as well, and pointed to it being done regularly as seen in 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010.

He said writing an accurate ballot title was necessary so that voters can say whether they want to support the actions of the Legislature.

Ballot title are written by the state’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. Choosing one is not without controversy because it can have an effect on voter perception.

Unlike initiatives, lawmakers have the option of writing a new title for referendums in the same fashion they draft language for legislative referrals.

Rep Vic Gilliam, R-Silverton, broke from party ranks and supported the bill. He said he thought the attorney general’s work on the title was sloppy, and noted that the ballot title language must match with the intent of the original bill’s language.

Jim Ludwick, communications for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which spearheaded the signature drive to qualify the ballot measure said the organization was disappointed. It hoped the Senate would not be as easily swayed.

“In my estimation, it’s gotten far away from the driver-card issue and now become an issue on the referendum process,” Ludwick said. “We’re being cut out of the process of checks and balances.”