Oregon is a beautiful place offering a superior quality of life. But it also is likely to suffer an enormous earthquake; a tsunami or both within the lifetimes of many of us. If that happened, the state Constitution would prevent the state government from responding quickly.
Restrictions on government powers that are legitimate and desirable most of the time would be a hindrance in a major disaster. The only way the governor could divert available funds to disaster relief efforts and call the Legislature into session would be to suspend the entire Constitution and declare martial law — effectively putting the military in charge of state government.
Recognizing these limitations and mindful that a quick response using all available resources could save many lives, the Legislature last year referred a constitutional amendment to the voters to correct the situation.
Ballot Measure 77 would permit the governor to redirect money ordinarily restricted to other uses in order to fund disaster relief efforts. The measure also would require the governor to call the Legislature into session within 30 days, but some normal constitutional requirements would be waived.
For instance, lawmakers could convene someplace other than the Capitol building if it was impossible to meet there, or meet electronically if travel were a problem. Two-thirds of the members able to attend could conduct business, rather than the usual two-thirds of all members. Instead of the usual requirement that a majority of all members must vote to pass bills, three-fifths of those able to attend could do so.
The measure sets a 30-day limit on the extra powers given to the governor, or the Legislature could set a shorter time limit. The Legislature also could extend the 30-day deadline but would have to set an ending date.
These are all reasonable powers to grant state government in the wake of a catastrophic disaster, and are preferable to martial law. The Legislature approved Measure 77 by an overall vote of 87-3. We recommend Oregon voters also approve it by a wide margin.
Ballot Measure 78, also referred by the Legislature, makes some simple wording changes in the state Constitution. Voters should approve it.
The measure changes references to three "departments" of government to the more modern "branches" — executive, legislative and judicial — and would also refer to the House and Senate as "chambers" rather than "branches" as the original text does.
In addition, the measure would replace original language referring to the secretary of state as "he," "him" and "his" with gender-neutral wording.
We recommend a yes vote on Ballot Measure 78.