Red and blue figurines stand over a crowd of people.

The war may not be over yet, but Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno has won the first battle. Wednesday a Marion County Circuit Court judge ruled she was right to reject a trio of proposed ballot measures because, she said, they improperly dealt with more than one subject each.

Clarno rejected Ballot Measures 35, 36 and 37 on Sept. 24, saying at the time that each covered more than a single subject, in violation of the state constitution. Oregon Wild, one of the groups sponsoring the trio, sued. Wednesday, Nov. 27, Judge Daniel Wren upheld Clarno’s decision. Oregon Wild has said it will appeal.

The measures each would have, among other things, banned clearcutting and limited aerial spraying of pesticides. The aerial spray ban, for example, would have limited spraying near streams and lakes. At the same time, it would have banned the procedure near occupied homes and schools. In addition, the trio would bar state forestry board members from voting on measures dealing with forest waters if they receive a substantial portion of their income from a person or organization regulated by state forestry law.

The state constitution says twice that initiative petitions must be limited to a single subject.

In Article XVII, Sect. 1, constitutional amendments are confined to a single subject, a limitation that’s been upheld in court at least twice in the last 25 years. In Article IV, Sect. 1(d), the same limit is applied to the people’s right to both propose new laws and amend old ones by initiative petition.

It’s unclear how appeals courts will rule on the Marion County decision, though both sides believe they’re reading the law correctly. One thing is clear, however. Clarno was absolutely right when she said “Voters should not need a law degree to interpret ballot measures.”

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