Oregon lawmakers skirmish over ballot measure on drivers licenses for illegal immigrants

Article author: 
Saul Hubbard
Article publisher: 
The Register Guard
Article date: 
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
Article Body: 

Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would rewrite the ballot title for the November referendum on short-term drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants.

The current ballot title, drafted by the state Department of Justice, reads: “Provides Oregon resident ‘driver card’ without requiring proof of legal presence in the United States.” That title is currently being reviewed by the Oregon Supreme Court.

Under an amendment to House Bill 4054 introduced and adopted this morning, the reference to “proof of legal presence” would be dropped from the title. The new title would read: “Establishes limited purpose, duration driver card for individuals who prove Oregon residency, meet driving requirements.” The reference to holders of these licenses not needing “proof of legal presence” would appear once in the ballot measure’s summary below the title.

Proponents of the change say the current ballot title doesn’t reflect the intent of the bill passed by the Legislature last year, before opponents collected enough signatures to refer the matter to voters in November.

That bill, Senate Bill 833, grants four-year “driver cards” to illegal immigrants who can provide proof of identity and of at least one year of Oregon residency, and pass a driving test.

Rep. Jessica Vega-Pederson, a Portland Democrat, said this morning that she believes Oregon voters “deserve to weigh in (on the issue) based on accurate information.”

The new proposed title “reflects both the content and the intent” of SB 833, she said.

Rep. Vic Gilliam, a Silverton Republican, bluntly said he does “not respect the ballot title” drafted by the Department of Justice, adding that the “work appears ... to be rather sloppy.”

Changing the title isn’t intended “to confuse or defuse” the controversial issue, Gilliam said. But, he added, “most voters are going to get their ballot in the mail and they need clear, precise, and easy to understand messages on ballot measures (and) on referendums.”

“This is an odd step but it is well within our purview,” he added.

But Rep. Vicki Berger, a Salem Republican, said she believed the proposed change is “inappropriate” and “basically circumvents a (title drafting) process that is long-standing.”

“In this case it appears the Legislature is unhappy with what the attorney general does and feels that it needs to re-do the job that was done,” she said.

The amended bill was approved 6-3 in the House Rules Committee this morning, with three Republicans opposing it. The bill now heads to the House floor.