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Gun initiative could cost local governments

A state committee released financial evaluations for four measures Oregonians will vote on in November
Backers of a proposed initiative in Oregon that would require individuals to secure permits to buy firearms and ban large-capacity magazines deliver the signatures of thousands of voters July 8, 2022, to the state election offices in Salem. [AP Photo/Andrew Selsky]

Only one of the four statewide ballot measures Oregonians will vote on in November comes with a financial cost to local governments.

That measure would ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, require a firearm safety course, tighten licensing and create stricter background checks on weapons’ purchases.

A committee involving the Secretary of State’s Office and legislative analysts determined it would cost the state over $23 million, but generate about the same amount in revenue. The measure would cost local governments up to $31 million in its first year.

Three other statewide ballot measures — that would punish absentee lawmakers, strip mention of slavery from the Constitution and make health care a constitutional right — have little or no impact on state finances, analysts determined.

The state held a public comment period on those evaluations Wednesday over Zoom. State officials will now consider changes to the financial impact statements. Changes would be made before Aug. 10, according to Ben Morris, communications director for the Secretary of State’s Office.

Boosting gun safety

More than 160,000 Oregonians signed a petition to get a new gun control proposal on the November ballot. Initiative Petition 17 would require anyone buying a firearm to obtain a permit by passing a safety training course. Current gun owners would have to obtain permits for any future gun purchases if the law were enacted. It would also ban the sale of ammunition magazines containing more than 10 rounds and require background checks on everyone who buys a gun, no matter the wait. Current state and federal gun laws require criminal background checks, but a loophole in federal law allows gun dealers to sell firearms without a completed background check if it takes longer than three days to complete.

The measure would require expenditures but would also bring in money.

Cost to state government: About $2 million in one-time expenses and $21 million between 2023-25 to provide additional staff and resources for Oregon State Police for background checks and issuing permits. The Oregon Judicial Department would likely have increased costs and cases related to new crimes established by the law and among people appealing permit denials.

Revenue for state government: Up to $23.5 million for the state from fees for fingerprinting, FBI background checks and judicial filings.

Cost to local government: More than $51 million in the first year to process an estimated 300,000 permit applications a year. More than $47 million in subsequent years to process permits.

Revenue for local government: Nearly $20 million per year in application fees.

Punishing absentee lawmakers

Initiative Petition 14 would amend the state Constitution to make lawmakers ineligible for re-election if they have 10 or more unexcused absences from floor sessions. Such sessions involve debates and voting on new laws. The measure aims to stop Republican lawmakers from blocking legislation by walking out or refusing to show up.

Republican lawmakers did that five times in 2019 and 2020 to prevent or stall action on guns, forestry, health care, the education budget and climate change. Oregon’s Constitution requires that two-thirds of legislators be present for a vote. This means that if more than 20 representatives or more than 10 senators are absent, a vote cannot take place.

The initiative is not expected to cost state or local governments anything and would not generate any revenue, according to the committee.

Removing slavery as punishment for crime

Initiative Referendum 402 would remove slavery and indentured servitude as accepted criminal punishments in the Oregon Constitution. Currently, Oregon is one of 10 states that technically still allows such punishment in sentencing. It would add language to the Constitution allowing state courts and probation and parole officials to order alternatives to incarceration such as education and treatment, too. A grassroots advocacy group, Oregonians Against Slavery Involuntary Servitude, which was established in 2020 by alumni of Willamette University, is behind the initiative.

The committee determined that any costs are tentative.

“The impact of the measure will depend on potential legal action or changes to inmate work programs,” the committee concluded.

Health care as a constitutional right

Initiative Referendum 401 would amend the state Constitution to make access to affordable health care a right and make Oregon the first state in the nation to secure such a right for its residents.

It would require the state to ensure access to “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care” for residents, balanced against obligations to fund public schools and other essential public services, according to the petition.

The committee could not determine the financial impacts of the measure because amending the Constitution would not cost extra money, but laws created to ensure the new right would.

“The impact of the measure will depend on future legislative action to establish additional health benefits and determine how they will be paid for,” it wrote.