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Taking the Initiative

The Mercury News Team Picks Apart this Fall's Ballot Measures

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On August 4, the Oregon Secretary of State finished wallowing through thousands of voter signatures for a dozen ballot initiatives, and ended up certifying an even 10 measures for the November ballot. For the next three months, you'll be hearing plenty about the measures that made it—like proposals to limit the state's budget, slapping term limits on state legislators, electing judges by district, and forcing teenage girls to notify their parents if they need an abortion.

Several progressive initiatives, like ones calling for universal healthcare, a cigarette tax, and nursing home reforms didn't make the cut—nor did a Portland-specific petition that would have made marijuana use for adults a little bit legal (see pg. 11 for more). A push for open primaries in Oregon also missed the signature-gathering mark.

Here's a primer on the 10 lucky ballots that made the cut.

Measure 39-Prohibits Public Body from Condemning Private Real Property If Intends to Convey to Private Party.

That title makes us want to blow our heads off. But essentially, this measure would stop governments from using eminent domain to take property from one private owner and hand it to another. (Why couldn't they just say that??) On the surface, the idea is difficult to dispute, and will be hard to beat in the state's libertarian-leaning rural areas, where private property rights come second only to God. But, detractors say, the measure ignores the fact that many community-building projects are actually public-private partnerships (see the Pearl District or South Waterfront), which could be made impossible by this specific eminent domain ban.

MEASURE 40Requires Oregon Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Judges to be Elected by District.

Currently, Oregon's top judges are elected statewide—which means that the population centers in Multnomah County and greater Western Oregon tend to decide who sits on the state Supreme Court. As it stands now, most judges come from Multnomah County and the Willamette Valley, and there isn't anyone from Eastern Oregon on the Supreme Court.

Proponents of this measure (who'd like to make the courts more conservative) argue that electing judges by district would make the courts more diverse. But even opponents of the measure—who argue that it would make judges beholden to their new constituents, instead of the law—concede that it wouldn't dramatically change the courts: Conservative voters in sparsely populated Eastern Oregon would only get a few judicial seats.

Measure 41Allows Income Tax Deduction Equal to Federal Exemptions Deduction to Substitute for State Exemption Credit (Federal Tax Substitution).

Yes, it's a mouthful. (Are dyslexics writing these ballot titles?) All you need to know is that it represents a tax cut. Defend Oregon, the campaign started to fight M41 and M48, say the cut will be in the range of $18 per month for average taxpayers. But in return, the campaign says, $151 million will be cut from the state's 2005-2007 budget, and $641 million from the 2007-2009 budget. That's money that will have to come from education, healthcare, drug rehab, and public safety.

MEASURE 42Prohibits Insurance Companies from Using Credit Score in Calculating Rates or Premiums.

This measure's a tricky one. On its face, it's a great idea: Insurance companies can (and do) ding people with sub par credit, by upping their rates. People with better credit, insurance companies argue, get into fewer accidents—and this measure would curb that practice. That's a good thing, especially for lower-income Oregonians, who might have less-than-stellar credit.

But the measure is backed by conservative activist Bill Sizemore—which makes us nervous...

MEASURE 43Requires 48-Hour Notice to Unemancipated Minor's Parents Before Providing Abortion.

If it passes—a similar measure failed in 1990—this measure will require doctors to notify parents 48 hours before their 15- to 17-year-old daughter can have an abortion. Oregon is one of only six states with no parental notification clause on the books.

Groups like Oregon Right to Life and the Oregon Family Council are for it, saying parents have a right to be involved in their teenage daughters' lives. And a coalition of groups like NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon and Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette have united to defeat it, arguing that the measure would put girls—especially those living in abusive homes—at risk, and would open the door to lawsuits against doctors.

MEASURE 44Allows Any Oregon Resident without Prescription Drug Coverage to Participate in Oregon Prescription Drug Program.

This measure is one of the few progressive measures that made the ballot. It would expand Oregon's prescription drug discount program—which currently covers uninsured, low-income Oregonians ages 55 and up—to any resident without their own coverage.

MEASURE 45Amends Constitution to Impose Term Limits on State Legislators.

If this measure passes, state legislators will have a shelf life: State representatives will be able to serve for six years, and state senators for eight. And, a legislator could only serve 14 years total (i.e., they could max out the term limit in both houses).

The state's Supreme Court tossed out term limits in Oregon in 2002. Though proponents of the measure argue that term limits would curb career politicians, opponents point out that state legislators serve so little—just six months every two years—that they hardly qualify as career politicos. Meanwhile, limiting their time in office might hamper the legislature, by preventing legislators from accumulating years of expertise in their policy areas.

Measures 46Amends Constitution—Allows Laws Regulating Election Contributions, Expenditures Adopted by Initiative or 3/4 of Both Legislative Houses.

Measure 47Revises Campaign Finance Laws—Limits or Prohibits Contributions and Expenditures; Adds Disclosure, New Reporting Requirements.

Currently, the Oregon Supreme Court's interpretation of the right to free speech applies wholly to campaign contributions—meaning that anybody (or any corporation, organization, or union) can give any amount to any candidate. Measure 46 would amend the state constitution to squirm around that little free speech issue. Essentially, it would allow the legislature or voters to create limits on campaign contributions.

Measure 47 follows up that amendment by presenting a list of limitations to campaign raising and spending. The text of the measure places strict caps on how much individuals can spend on candidates ($500 for statewide office, $100 for other public offices) and bans contributions from corporations and unions entirely. The pair of measures has already come under fire from labor unions and affiliated advocacy groups like Our Oregon, who say that progressive organizations will be disadvantaged.

Measure 48Amends Constitution—Limits Biennial Percentage Increase in State Spending to Percentage Increase in State Population, Plus Inflation.

This one is brought to you locally by the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, and nationally by anti-tax, small government groups. M48 caps state spending growth based on population growth and inflation.

Fiscally smart, say supporters. Shortsighted and damaging, cry detractors. Defend Oregon points out that the measure will severely slash human services, since the strict cap doesn't factor in that the cost for some services (like healthcare) rise faster than inflation, or that certain segments of the population (prisoners, the elderly) require more state spending and are growing at a faster rate than the general population. In other words, they say, it's too simplistic a formula to do anything but harm.


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