Friday, June 26, 2009

When does yes mean no and no mean yes?

E-Mail from Lars Larson--

When does yes mean no and no mean yes? The Oregon legislature.

Where democrats plan to pass taxes they know full well won’t pass muster with voters. So they’re pulling a last minute sneaky snakey move. Gut and stuff. That’s where you take one bill…gut everything and stuff in something brand new. Hurry it out of committee. It’s house bill 2414. When voters refer this billion dollar tax hike to the ballot it must now include “overturns legislation” in the ballot title. And the voters won’t be overturning any legislation… because legislation has no legal standing in Oregon if it has been referred to the ballot...and the voters have their say That ought to confuse some. And the law says it must include the phrase “a yes vote rejects legislation that”…and a second statement must include “a no vote approves legislation that”. .Bernie Madoff should have had these scam artists on his staff. Vote yes if you mean no on taxes and vote no if you mean yes.

A gut-and-stuff amendment to House Bill 2414 would overturn Oregon history and practice and sew confusion for Oregon voting on referrals.

The amendment to House Bill 2414 would require that any state measure referred to the people by referendum include the phrase “Overturns Legislation” in the caption. It requires two “understandable” statements of not more than 25 words in the ballot title. One statement would describe the result if the state measure is rejected. It must be worded so that an affirmative vote corresponds to a rejection of the state measure and must begin with the phrase, “A ‘yes’ vote rejects legislation that.” The second statement would describe the result if the state measure is approved and must begin with the phrase, “A ‘no’ vote approves legislation that.”

If you’re not confused by this you’re not paying attention, because the amendment is meant to create a fog of confusion in Oregon’s referendum process.

Currently, a “yes” means “yes” to the issue that the people are deciding in their legislative capacity – the imposition of a tax or an environmental regulation or deregulation – and a “no” means “no” on the issue. “Yes” means acceptance of the legislative proposal; no means rejection of the legislative proposal.

The mischievous amendment to House Bill 2414 overturns both Oregon history and elemental logic in one fell swoop. The guiding principle of Oregon’s referral system has always been that a piece of legislation has no standing if it is immediately referred to voters. Only the voters give it standing and lock a referred measure into Oregon law. That’s why a referendum does not go into effect until voters have had their say at the ballot box. It cannot be overturned because, unlike a legislation that is not referred, it has never been established in law.

The proposed amendment to House Bill 2414 would change this.

“Yes” will mean “no” and “no” will mean “yes”— an affirmative vote will mean rejection and a negative vote will mean approval -- under the proposed amendment, and confusion will reign.

This confusion may work to one side’s advantage on a particular issue, but just as easily work to its disadvantage on the next issue. What’s good referral politics in one political season can be bad politics in another. The current legislature may want to increase taxes; the next legislature may want to strip protection for the Metolius River.

The proposed amendment to House Bill 2414 uses the words “simple and understandable” but the amendment would establish a complicated and obscure ballot on voter referenda and referrals. What this legislature should focus on is consistency and clarity.


Citing a 2001 Oregon Supreme Court opinion, the Attorney General’s Office wrote that a ballot title “complies substantially” with Oregon law “if it identifies the subject matter of a proposed measure in terms that will not confuse or mislead voters.” The Attorney General’s Office made this statement in the context of approving a 2003 referendum petition in which a “yes” vote enacts a legislatively-passed income-tax surcharge and a “no” vote retains existing income-tax rates.

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