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Oregon legislature places new restrictions on initiative process

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June 24, 2009

SALEM, Oregon: The Oregon State Senate has recently passed legislation, entitled the Oregon House Bill 2005 (2009), that provides for tougher restrictions and harsher penalties regarding initiative and petition fraud. Supporters of the bill, which passed 18-12 despite near unanimous Republican opposition and is awaiting Governor Ted Kulongoski's signature, said that it was "necessary to attack signature fraud restore the credibility of the state's heavily used initiative system."New Secretary of State Kate Brown made it one of her top priorities, and said that the bill "gives me more tools in the toolbox to crack down on petition fraud."[1] The new requirements and provisions instituted by the bill include:

  • Prohibits of those convicted of fraud, forgery or identity theft from registering as paid signature gatherers.
  • Allows the Oregon secretary of state to conduct criminal background checks on prospective signature gatherers.
  • Requires petitioners to submit initiative signature sheets once a month to allow more time to process the names and fix any errors.
  • Chief petitioners can be held legally liable if they knew or should have known a circulator had violated the law.
  • An increase in the maximum fine for violating laws that govern the initiative process from $250 to $10,000.

Those opposed have charged Brown and the legislature as simply trying to discourage and restrict the use of initiatives, a process increasingly used by conservatives to circumvent the legislative and executive branches which are largely controlled by Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli said that the matter is simply "about not liking the outcome of the citizens initiative process."[2] Opponents say it does nothing more than make it more difficult for citizen groups to take ideas directly to the ballot. Citing in particular the increase in maximum monetary penalties, Senator Vicki Walker, the lone Democrat to oppose the bill, said that the risk of such fines will drive away all except well-financed individuals who can stand to lose so much money. Additionally, she argues that by instituting a monthly turn-in requirement, the names of petition signers will be released prematurely, allowing opponents of the petition to harass them and others from any future initiative action.[3]

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