The Lane County Board of Commissioners’ June 28 discussion of giving themselves the authority to block some local ballot measures has EW floored. Did it get forgotten by four of the five commissioners that Oregon citizens have a right to the initiative process that is protected in the state Constitution?
The RG broke the story this morning, and according to the daily, “Under the unusual proposal, the commissioners would gain the authority to preemptively block any countywide ballot measure that they deem not to be ‘of county concern,’ before it goes to voters or the courts,” and the “board voted 4-1 to have county staff start drafting an ordinance on the issue.”
The RG quotes Commish Jay Bozievich as saying, “he would like the county’s proposed ordinance to apply to measures that haven’t yet qualified for the ballot — which would include the Community Rights measures. That could be considered a retroactive change to local election law.”
It’s not clear in the language what is “county concern” and if county concerns might ally more strongly with corportate interests, such as the timber industry, over community groups concerned with pesticide sprays or GMOS.
Commish Faye Stewart Stewart “said he doesn’t understand the purpose of championing local measures that won’t survive a legal challenge.”
The county must have a crystal ball, as it seeks to prevent ballot measures the commission thinks won’t stand a legal challenge … before they actually go through the legal system.
The RG reports that Pete Sorenson was the lone dissenting voice on having staff draft language for an ordinance.
Sorenson tells EW while no actual vote was taken, the “dominant flavor” was to move ahead with an ordinance. He says were the commission to move ahead he has two questions he would like answered. First, “Is there a problem?” He says he doesn’t think Lane County has had a lot of problematic local measures.
Second, Sorenson says there is already a system in place for dealing with ballot measures that are passed by citizen votes but might have portions of them that are unlawful or beyond the scope, and that process throws out nonlegal portions of measures. He calls the proposed ordinance a “solution in search of a problem.”
The ordinance could “suppress rights people currently enjoy,” he says, and to change rules on a process that is already under way, such as the Community Rights initiative is “frowned upon.”
Sorenson says if the proposed ordinance goes forward there would be a public meeting.
You can watch a video of the meeting here.
Here is the proposed languge, which you can find on the commission agenda under:
B. DISCUSSION/ Potential Changes to Lane County Initiative and Referendum Process. (Stephen Dingle, County Counsel)
The language reads:
Whereas, initiative and referendum powers are reserved to the people of the State of Oregon, and are further reserved to the legal voters of home rule counties regarding matters of county concern, by the Oregon Constitution;
Whereas, ORS 250.155 recognizes the reserved right of home rule counties to establish the procedures for exercising county initiative and referendum powers;
Whereas, a charter amendment or ordinance that is not a matter of county concern will be declared invalid after passage upon challenge;
Whereas, Lane County believes that conducting elections for and funding expensive litigation to defend initiative measures that will be declared invalid after passage wastes valuable and limited resources of Lane County taxpayers.