Editorial: Oregon is not always in an emergency

Oregon lives in a state of emergency, or at least lawmakers seem to think it does. How else can they explain the emergency clauses attached to nearly half the bills introduced in the 2015 Legislature?

The clauses allow the bills to become law immediately and, in doing so, make it impossible for citizens to gather signatures and refer unpopular measures to the voters. Among the Legislature’s emergencies last spring was the measure tightening background checks on gun sales in Oregon.

It’s easy to see why some would want the emergency definition on the background check bill, and it’s equally easy to see why others would not. But for many bills, the value of or need for an emergency declaration is less clear.

Lawmakers declared an emergency so banks and credit unions could immediately hold raffles to lure customers into opening savings accounts. They did so again when they created the office of state resilience officer, a position that had formerly been voluntary. A third time, they made “emergency” changes in the state’s agricultural mediation service.

It’s no wonder, then, a Wilsonville lawyer and the anti-tax group Taxpayer Association of Oregon are working to make changes in the state’s constitution that would limit the practice of attaching emergency clauses so freely.

The petition would require a two-thirds majority of lawmakers to attach an emergency clause to the four laws mentioned above. At the same time, it would carve out exceptions for measures dealing with “catastrophic disaster,” ordinary spending measures and bills cutting funds if revenues come up short.

In other words, its crafters seek to strike a balance that would allow lawmakers to address real emergencies in a timely fashion even as they create a major hurdle for less legitimate emergencies.

It’s too soon to tell if the effort to get the petition on next year’s general election ballot will be successful, but if fairness plays a role, it should. Lawmakers should not be allowed to run roughshod over voters when they’re concerned bills will be so unpopular that voters will decide to weigh in on them. This petition would end that practice.

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