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Great OpEd Piece On How The Emergency Clause Abuses Democracy

Discussion in 'Legal & Political Archive' started by Stomper, Apr 30, 2015.

  1. Stomper

    Stomper Oceania Rising White Is The New Brown Silver Supporter

    Likes Received:
    As most of you know, SB941 has been tagged as "emergency" legislation which means it goes into effect immediately if/when passed, and precludes it from the citizen referendum process to let citizens actually decide for themselves.


    My View: Emergency clause abuses democracy
    Created on Tuesday, 27 January 2015 06:00 | Written by Richard F. LaMountain | printButton.png

    In Oregon’s political order, do state lawmakers recognize the people’s primacy — or game the system to impose their own?

    Oregon’s constitution guarantees its citizens the right of referendum, to put laws passed by their Legislature to a public vote. In recent years, however, lawmakers have routinely saddled many laws with an “emergency clause,” which shields those laws from a referendum challenge and thereby nullifies the referendum right.

    In the legislative session beginning Feb. 2, voters should demand an end to this cynical, undemocratic practice.

    “No act shall take effect,” stipulates Oregon’s constitution, “until ninety days from the end of the session at which the same shall have been passed, except in case of emergency; which emergency shall be declared in ... the law.”

    Why the wait? The main reason, writes Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, “is to provide adequate time for the public to gather sufficient signatures on petitions to refer a measure for the people to decide.”

    How does that process work? Within 90 days of a legislative session’s end, citizens who wish to refer a new law must collect signatures of registered voters numbering at least 4 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. If they do, the law is suspended and Oregonians determine its fate at a future election, which is usually the next general election.

    But back to that constitutional exception, the phrase “in case of emergency.” That empowers lawmakers, via an emergency clause, to declare a law so urgent that it must take effect earlier than the usual 90-plus days. If they do, Oregonians cannot seek to refer the law.

    Webster’s defines “emergency” as “an urgent need for assistance or relief.” In recent sessions, however, emergency clauses have been attached to bills that even the wildest imaginations could not construe as addressing true emergencies. Examples include: bills to allow unionization of workplaces via “check-off cards” (2007); to credential undocumented immigrants for in-state university tuition (2013); and even to replace the U.S. Capitol statue of Oregon pioneer Jason Lee with one of the late U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield (2014).

    How prevalent has been the recent use of the emergency clause? “Seventy-one percent of the bills enacted into law during the 2012 session,” writes Whitsett, “had an emergency clause attached that [made] them effective immediately upon their passage.” The clause’s frequent intent? Whitsett contends: “To block the constitutionally guaranteed right of the people to refer the new law.”

    Would legislators actually employ the emergency clause to such cynical end?

    Consider Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, a supporter of the undocumented immigrant driver card law passed by the Legislature in May 2013 that was referred to and overturned by voters in last November’s election. Last March, Johnson told The Oregonian that if voters rejected the law, then (in the newspaper’s words) “lawmakers could pass the same bill next session” and add “an emergency clause to allow the law to go into effect immediately.”

    How to end such misuse of the emergency clause? Oregonians should pressure legislators to do this: Introduce for voters’ approval a constitutional amendment that requires any bill containing an emergency clause to receive two-thirds of the votes of the House and Senate to pass, and until its enactment, pledge to oppose any bill containing such clause unless, in their judgment, it addresses a true emergency.

    When used for the intent of thwarting potential referenda, the emergency clause perverts the relationship between Oregonians and the legislators they elect to represent them. We need to restore that clause to its proper, limited role in lawmaking — and the voice of the citizen, as manifested in the referendum, to its paramount place in Oregon’s representative democracy.

    Richard F. LaMountain, a Cedar Mill resident, served as a chief petitioner of the 2014 initiative, Measure 88, via which Oregon voters overturned the 2013 state law granting driver cards to undocumented immigrants.
    tiggers97, Justaguy, Ed Guinn and 2 others like this.