SALEM - The ballot box has long been the domain of those who want to put laws on the books without dealing with the whims of the Legislature.
But the ranks of ballot measure authors includes others besides citizens and special interest lobbyists: Increasingly, legislators - even though they have the ability to draft and debate bills at the Capitol - are turning to the initiative process.
Of 96 prospective measures filed as of this week for the November 2006 election, 18 had at least one legislator as a chief petitioner, according to the Oregon Elections Division.
Those include proposals to expand a state prescription drug discount program, to allow criminal charges for harming or killing a fetus and to increase the mandatory minimum sentences for child molesters.
Before the 2004 election, just two petitions out of 152 came from lawmakers. In 2002, it was seven of 183 bills.
That's not to say individual legislators haven't used the initiative process in the past. Also, the Legislature can vote to send questions to voters - a move that doesn't require signatures to be gathered.
Oregon's tough mandatory sentencing law, Measure 11, was written by former lawmaker and now Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix in 1994.
And Oregon's minimum wage law, passed in 2002, was forwarded by now-Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner and state Rep, Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland.
"Oregon is catching up with California, where politician-sponsored initiatives have long been a staple," said Richard Ellis, a Willamette University politics professor whose book "Demo-cratic Delusions" examines the initiative system in Oregon and elsewhere.
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is sending four ballot measures to voters Tuesday.
Initiatives are supposed to give the public an alternative to pass laws and exclude the Legislature, so having politicians draft them is outside the original intent, Ellis said.
"Certainly William U'Ren and the others who were responsible for bringing the initiative to Oregon never conceived that elected officials would themselves be the sponsors of initiatives, and they would almost certainly regard such a practice as a perversion," Ellis said.
One factor behind the surge of proposed measures in Oregon this year is the split political control at the Capitol, where the House was controlled by Republicans and Democrats led the Senate. That meant conservative- or liberal-leaning pet bills could pass one chamber, but not both.
"It's not on the minds of legislators to bypass the legislative process, and certainly that was not my thinking," said state Rep. Gordon Anderson, R-Grants Pass, who is a chief petitioner of the proposal to allow criminal charges for harming or killing a fetus.
California has a similar law, and it led to a double murder conviction of Scott Peterson, who was convicted last year of killing his pregnant wife, Laci, in a case that was splashed across tabloids.
The Oregon House passed a bill this session, but it was amended in the Senate because of concerns that adding charges for killing an unborn child might become a backdoor way to criminalize abortions.
"If the Legislature cannot get a clear and rational and fair hearing, then maybe you are better to take it to the people," Anderson said. "The popularity is high, but the Senate hardly wanted to hear it and appeared to cut off the debate about it."
He is among 10 lawmakers proposing ballot measures thus far. Most of the petitions from lawmakers closely resemble bills that ended up on the shoals this session.
Generally speaking, only a fraction of petitions will actually qualify for the ballot because of the time and cost associated with securing thousands of signatures.
For measures to appear on the November 2006 ballot, sponsors would need to collect and submit 100,840 valid signatures for measures to amend the Constitution, and 75,630 to change the statute books.
Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Aloha, who has signed onto three petitions so far, said he'd rather see bills pass at the Capitol, such as ramped-up sex offender sentences that cleared the House but not the Democrat-controlled Senate.
"In this situation, the legislative process broke down and left us no choice," he said.
Similar sentiments are offered by Sen. Bill Morrisette, D-Springfield, who launched a ballot campaign because the Republican House killed a proposal to expand a prescription drug discount program.
Bill Lunch, a political science professor at Oregon State University, said oftentimes lawmakers will use ballot campaigns as a way to boost their personal profile, potentially to help them win higher office down the road.
After Mannix led the campaign for Measure 11, he ran for attorney general and now governor, Lunch said.
Sen. Ben Westlund, R-Tumalo, who has said previously that the initiative system is over used and that the Legislature is the proper forum to tackle public policy matters, is a petitioner for one proposed measure for 2006, is touting another and may become a petitioner for a third.
He is one of three chief petitioners for a proposal to require lawmakers to come up with a strategy to reduce the number of uninsured people. He also favors a plan to raise cigarette taxes, although that has not been introduced yet.
The final measure he is supporting - he is among the speakers for a kickoff rally on Tuesday - would create an open primary for legislative seats. Backers hope that idea would help moderate candidates.
"Regrettably, more legislators are turning to the initiative process, not to get around the Legislature, but because the Legislature has become so extreme and partisan and so incapable of solving some of Oregon's most pressing problems including health care," he said.