Oregon Attorney General ordered to rewrite ballot title on proposed bill to limit legislators' service

By Elizabeth Alt | Dec 6, 2017

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of Oregon has sent a proposed bill back Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum for modification after a resident filed a ballot title change for Initiative Petition 19 (IP 19). 

The man claimed that the title did not accurately describe the immediate impact if the bill passed, most notably that the state would impose an eight-year service time limit for legislators the first time.

The Supreme Court of Oregon agreed with plaintiff Matt Swanson on Nov. 9 that the caption did not adequately describe the implications of the proposed initiative. Supreme Court Justice Martha L. Walters stated in the court opinion, “The actual impact of the measure on the legislature’s composition is a major effect that must be described in the ballot title’s caption,” and referred the ballot back to the attorney general for modification.

Swanson claimed that the ballot title caption for IP 19, which would prohibit a person from serving as a member of the Legislative Assembly for more than eight years in any period of 12 years, did not comply with the requirement of Oregon Revised Statues that captions reasonably identify the subject matter of the proposed measure. 

Swanson said IP 19 did not inform voters that the bill would be applied retroactively to calculate years of current or prior service. Voters reasonably might believe that past legislative service would not be considered in applying the measure’s prohibition, the measure’s retroactive application is a major effect that must be signaled because, if the measure is enacted, it will prohibit many current legislators from completing their terms. 

Swanson filed a ballot title change in August.

Rosenblum asserted the caption did not require further detail to reasonably identify the measure’s subject matter, as the voters could read further about the proposal in “Yes” vote statement and the summary portions of the ballot title, and said the possibility of a current legislator being impacted was “speculative.”

As Oregon does not currently restrict its legislator’s terms of service, the Supreme Court agreed that the retroactive application of IP 19 could have an actual major effect on the composition of legislature by immediately creating new term limits for current and prior legislators. Walters rejected Rosenblum’s contention that the caption was sufficient, saying “The caption is the cornerstone of the ballot title and must describe 'the proposed measure’s subject matter ‘accurately and in terms that will not confuse or mislead potential petition signers and voters.'”

The ballot title is referred to the Attorney General for modification.

Swanson is represented by Harry B. Wilson, Markowitz Herbold PC, Portland, Oregon.

Supreme Court for the State of Oregon case number S065181

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