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Lawmakers aim to rename ballot title

The House has proposed a bill that would allow them to change the name of a driver card measure


A yet untitled ballot measure regarding driving privileges for undocumented U.S. residents is the source of new controversy as the election looms.

In 2013, Oregon lawmakers passed Senate Bill 833, which allows the Department of Transportation to issue a driver card to an Oregon resident, equivalent to a driver’s license, without proof of legal presence in the United States. The bill was approved by the Senate 20-7, and by the House 38-20. After it passed, citizens mounted a successful campaign to gather the necessary 60,000 signatures to refer the bill to a vote of the people.

Proponents of the bill claim that it will improve public safety on roads throughout the state. To receive a driver card, applicants must not only live in Oregon for at least one year, but also meet all other requirements of a driver’s license.

“We have a responsibility to make our roads safe for everyone,” said Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson (D-Portland). “Whether it’s a mother driving her children to school or a father driving to the grocery store, all drivers should be tested and legally insured regardless of the documents they have.”

Opponents, on the other hand, questioned whether the law would have any effect on driver safety. In fact, it prompted Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) to introduce a bill that would track the effect of driver cards on public safety.

While the topic has generated considerable debate, the issue of driver cards itself has taken a backseat in recent days to a new development. On Thursday, the House was voting on a bill to change the name of the ballot title. The original ballot title, assigned by the state attorney general, is currently being challenged in the Oregon Supreme Court. Nevertheless, House Bill 4054 was introduced to supersede the process and allow the Legislature to choose its name.

“To me, that is a gross overstepping of legislative authority,” said Republican Sen. Doug Whitsett, who serves Crook County in District 28. “This bill (SB 833) passed and the people gathered enough signatures to get it put on the ballot and now the House is attempting to change the ballot title.”

When it comes to the success of a ballot measure, Whitsett stressed that the title can sometimes make a huge difference.

“Many people only read the ballot title when they vote,” he said.

Rep. Mike McLane (R-Powell Butte) is similarly distressed by HB 4054, noting that it would have a chilling effect on future citizen referendums if passed.

“This move to change a ballot title is an improper use of legislative powers,” he said. “A referendum, by its very nature, is the people’s choice to vote directly on a piece of legislation.”

Results of the vote on HB 4054 were not available by press deadline.

Regarding their stance on the driver card issue itself, both Whitsett and McLane saw reasons to support both points of view, despite the fact they both voted against the initial bill.

McLane said he initially approved the legislation when it was in committee, but after looking into it more thoroughly later, decided it had flaws that needed addressed.

“I would have liked it if they had made insurance (coverage) a requirement,” he said.

Whitsett acknowledged that he could spend an hour weighing the pros and cons of the bill.

“Should you be giving privileges to people who are not legally in the United States?” he asked. “On the other hand, there are a number of people and some agencies who believe if these people who are in the United States undocumented had driver’s licenses, they would be able to get insurance and they would be more likely to take a driver’s test, and therefore it might be safer to have them driving, since we know that many of them are driving anyway.”



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