Editorial: Don’t muddle state’s ethics laws

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Maybe lawyers for state agencies are not like other Oregonians. They could have far superior wisdom and judgment. We’d guess, though, that they are just as imperfect as everybody else.

But House Bill 2830 would give an attorney for a public employer a special power. Such attorneys could immunize public employees from a civil penalty for performing political activities on the job. If the attorney told the employee the political activity was OK, the employee could not face a civil penalty from the Secretary of State’s Office.

We don’t know why the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Margaret Doherty, D-Tigard, wants this bill. She has not returned our calls about any of her bills this session. So let’s guess. She doesn’t want public employees to be held responsible when a lawyer tells them their on-the-job political activity is OK.

We’d be shocked if many public-sector lawyers are itching to give their blessing to the sort of taxpayer-funded political activity Doherty seems to have in mind. And as for public employees who might be affected, most of them undoubtedly recognize that such activity is completely inappropriate and wouldn’t think of doing it anyway. So why confuse the issue?

Oregon law is clear in this area. Public employees should not generally engage in political activity when they are supposed to be doing their jobs. For instance, school employees have to be careful about advocating for school bonds while they’re on the clock.

Here is the notice that public employers are required to post in a conspicuous place. “No public employee shall solicit any money, influence, service or other thing of value or otherwise promote or oppose any political committee or promote or oppose the nomination or election of a candidate, the gathering of signatures on an initiative, referendum or recall petition, the adoption of a measure or the recall of a public office holder while on the job during working hours. However, this section does not restrict the right of a public employee to express personal political views.”

The best thing the Legislature can do with HB 2830 is nothing.

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