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MailTribune.com
  • Meddling in the people's business

    Lawmakers rewriting a ballot title should stay out of the way
  • Oregon's system of initiative and referendum gives voters the power to enact laws themselves when the Legislature cannot or will not, and to overturn laws voters don't like. Needless to say, lawmakers are not always pleased with this populist process, but most of the time, they let it take its course. This week, though, the House stuck its nose where it doesn't belong.
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  • Oregon's system of initiative and referendum gives voters the power to enact laws themselves when the Legislature cannot or will not, and to overturn laws voters don't like. Needless to say, lawmakers are not always pleased with this populist process, but most of the time, they let it take its course. This week, though, the House stuck its nose where it doesn't belong.
    At issue is a law the Legislature passed allowing immigrants in the United States illegally to obtain permits to drive in Oregon. We supported the law and still do: The immigrants in question are here, and they're driving whether anyone likes it or not, so why not encourage them to know the rules of the road and to get insurance?
    Needless to say, not everyone agrees with that argument. Opponents of the law promptly launched a referendum campaign to repeal it, saying the state should not be rewarding people who are in the country illegally. Enough signatures were gathered to put the statute to a vote, and normally, that would be that.
    But majority House Democrats in Salem, who want to see the law upheld, have jumped in to write their own ballot title for the measure in a transparent attempt to boost the law's chances. It's a cynical ploy that should not be allowed to continue.
    The attorney general's office, as it is required to do by law, has written a certified ballot title for the measures. That title has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which usually has the final say.
    Not trusting the high court to decide their way, supporters of the law are pushing their own title, voting it out of committee on Tuesday and passing it on the House floor Thursday.
    Here's the attorney general's title:
    "Provides Oregon resident 'driver card' without requiring proof of legal presence in the United States."
    Here's the House-written version:
    "Establishes limited purpose, duration driver card for individuals who prove Oregon residency, meet driving requirements."
    Notice the difference?
    The words "legal presence in the United States" appear in the certified title, but not in the House version.
    Supporters of the driver-card law and the rewritten title say it makes clear that the statute is intended to increase safety, a point left out of the certified version.
    But the rewrite obscures the main consequence of the law. The problem is, a voter who reads only the ballot title and not the summary of the measure or the arguments for and against might have no idea the law grants driving privileges to immigrants here illegally. And, we're sorry to say, too many voters are likely to be misled as a result.
    Legislators who write a ballot title that deliberately leaves out the most controversial effect of a law are blatantly trying to game the system to their advantage.
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