Facing a make-or-break deadline Thursday, the fate of two controversial ballot measures took sharply different turns.
Opponents of a new health provider tax turned in over 80,000 signatures to the secretary of state, well above the nearly 59,000 required to send the issue to Oregon voters next year.
“This has been one of the most grass-roots campaigns I’ve ever experienced,” said Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, a leader of the anti-tax group.
But opponents of a new gun control law said the clock ran out on their effort, with only 25,000 signatures gathered — less than half the number needed.
“We ran out of time,” said Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, one of the co-sponsors.
The upshot: If the secretary of state certifies the minimum number of signatures needed, the health provider tax will be put up for a vote at a special election on Jan. 23.
The gun control measure will go into effect as planned Jan. 1.
In the upside-down world of referenda, those who sought to put the issue on the ballot would seek to defeat the issue on election day.
Parrish and her allies gathered signatures to put Referendum 301, the health care tax, onto the ballot. If the secretary of state’s review shows enough valid signatures to reach the minimum, the group will launch a “No on 301” campaign.
Proponents of the health care tax — who would be the “Yes on 301” group — say it will generate more than $530 million to ensure that low-income Oregonians receive health care coverage.
Without the full funding, health care tax advocates say over 350,000 residents could lose their coverage.
Opponents say the tax unfairly shifts the burden onto some taxpayers and the better solution is to reduce “Cadillac” benefits for public employees to pay for low-income healthcare.
Referendum 301 does not seek to block the entire law, but portions that would bring in more than $300 million. If voters reject the law, some taxes would be blocked while others would only be delayed.
The new gun law creates an Extreme Risk Protection Order, which allows civilians or law enforcement to ask a judge to find if an individual presents risk of suicide or homicide. Law enforcement officers would be directed to temporarily remove any firearms from the person’s possession.
The Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety said the law was a tool to allow time to intervene in situations that could lead to deaths. A similar law has been passed in Washington state.
The law in Oregon was introduced by Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas. A former Special Forces officer, Boquist cited the high rate of suicides among veterans. His stepson, a Navy veteran, committed suicide in 2016.
“In Oregon, on average it’s 150 veterans a year who commit suicide,” Boquist said in May during Senate debate.
Those seeking to repeal the law said they were hamstrung by circumstances, not a lack of interest among voters. Under state law, the petitioners had 90 days from the end of the Legislative session to challenge the law and send it to the ballot. The session ended July 7, but Brown did not sign the bill into law until Aug. 15, as allowed by law. Opponents of the bill could not begin gathering signatures until Brown signed.
“The foot-dragging by Gov. Brown cost us 39 of our 90 days,” Post said. “There was no reason to do this other than to keep us from gathering signatures and keep this issue from a vote of the people.”
Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, said Tuesday was not the last that would be heard from those who signed petitions.
“The gun grabbers are on notice that we have an organization that can put a measure on the ballot, so that the people can vote on it,” Nearman said.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, voted “no” on both bills under challenge. Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, and Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, also voted “no” on both.
Buehler is running for governor. An orthopedic surgeon, Buehler supported the effort to overturn the health provider tax. His wife, Patricia Buehler, also a physician, contributed $2,500 in June to a Oregonians Against More Healthcare Taxes, a political action committee opposing the health provider tax.
Buehler also supported the referendum to overturn the gun control law.
— Reporter: 541-525-5280, firstname.lastname@example.org