Has Oregon's Constitution Become an Inconvenience?

Doug Whitsett

Apparently, the Oregon Constitution has become little more than an inconvenience for our state’s majority party.

Last week, Senate Bill 1511, relating to cannabis, was brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

Section 17 of that bill clearly regulates the collection of state taxes on marijuana. The bill also has an emergency clause, making it effective immediately, upon the signature of Governor Brown.

The Oregon Constitution states, in Article IX, Section 1a, that no law can be enacted with an emergency clause that regulates collection of taxes. For that reason, I asked for a parliamentary ruling regarding how the Oregon Senate could be voting on a bill that is clearly unconstitutional.

After conferring with Counsel, the Senate President stated that although the law created by the bill, as currently written, would be unconstitutional, voting on the unconstitutional bill was not an unconstitutional act. He reasoned that a bill does not become a law until it is passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as being signed into law by the Governor.

It was explained the House of Representatives could amend the bill in committee before a vote of the full House. Further, the bill is not yet a law until the bill is signed by the Governor Brown, and she does have the authority to remove the offending emergency clause by line-item veto.

Finally, the courts could strike down the language that makes the new law unconstitutional, while preserving the parts that are within constitutional authority.

 Therefore, technically, the act of voting on a bill that as currently written certainly will result in an unconstitutional law is not an unconstitutional action, because the bill is not yet an unconstitutional law.

My motion to refer the bill back to committee to remove the unconstitutional emergency clause was defeated on a party-line vote. Notwithstanding the Senate President’s Orwellian ruling, the bill passed then out of the Oregon Senate, on a party line vote, with all Democrats voting in favor, and all Republicans voting in opposition.

When we take office, we all voluntarily swear to uphold the Constitutions of both Oregon and of the United States of America. In my opinion, this kind of twisting of the law makes the meaning of those oaths hollow, at best.

Article XI, Section 6 of the Oregon Constitution prohibits the State from owning stocks in companies, associations and corporations, except under limited circumstances. House Joint Resolution 203 proposes to amend the Oregon Constitution to provide that public universities are not constitutionally prohibited from owning stocks in companies, associations and corporations. It refers the proposed amendment to the people for their approval or rejection at the next regular general election.

That proposed constitutional amendment has merit. However, its companion bill is extremely misleading.

HB 4092-A specifies the ballot title, summary and explanatory statement for HJR 203. It asserts that the exact language in the statements shall be included in the voters’ pamphlet and on the ballot. It further specifically prohibits review of the appropriateness of the language by the Attorney General and the Oregon Supreme Court.


That phrase must have been extremely popular and persuasive in polling and among focus groups. It is repeated word-for-word in the result of a “yes” vote and the summary statements.

While investment in equities may result in greater investment returns, it may also result in significant losses. To allege that investment in equities reduces financial risk is beyond misleading. It is simply false.

The further statement that additional investment income could benefit students by minimizing tuition increases and enhancing student programs is equally specious. Not mentioned is that investment losses would have the exact opposite effect such as harming students, increasing tuition and depleting student programs.

Unfortunately, the Oregon Legislative Assembly has a long history of writing such misleading ballot titles. How better to trick Oregon voters to adopt amendments that the legislature has neither the political will nor the votes to enact.

The purpose of review by the Attorney General and the Supreme Court is to keep those ballot titles and statements honest and accurate. Once again, the legislative majority is willing to bypass those protections to ensure the election outcome they covet.

Please remember--if we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one will.

Best Regards,

Senate District 28


Email: Sen.DougWhitsett@state.or.us I Phone: 503-986-1728
Address: 900 Court St NE, S-311, Salem, OR 97301
Website: http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/whitsett


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