Secretary of State Bev Clarno has rejected two proposed ballot initiatives that which aimed to move Oregon to carbon-free energy by 2045.
Her move was the second time in recent weeks that she has rebuffed petitioners trying to get measures on the Oregon ballot net year.
In a pair of letters sent to petitioners, Clarno cited provisions setting guidelines for labor standards in energy construction projects as violating Oregon's requirement that ballot measures focus on a single subject.
Rich Vial, deputy secretary of state, said Friday, Dec. 20, that the letters "speak for themselves" and wouldn't comment on Clarno's interpretation of the single-subject rule.
Renew Oregon, the clean-energy coalition, was seeking two measures that would require all retail electricity in Oregon to by carbon free and mandate the state invest in carbon reduction measures. The proposals were seen as a safety net should legislators again fail to pass a carbon reduction bill in 2020.
Executive Director Tera Hurst, Renew Oregon executive director, called Clarno's ruling a "flagrant abuse of power" unseen from any previous secretary of state. "The secretary of state is siding with the oil industry, corporate polluters, and anti-worker special interests to block the ability of the voters to decide their clean air future. It is unconscionable how far special interests will go to protect their profits," Hurst said in her statement.
The initiatives were filed Oct. 7, and more than 1,500 sponsorship signatures were submitted for each just a few weeks later. The draft ballot title issued by the attorney general's office on Nov. 20 was then opened for public comment where it received opposition over the same issue Clarno pointed out in her ruling.
This is the second time this election cycle that Clarno has cited the single-subject rule in throwing out initiatives. In October, Clarno used her interpretation of the law to reject three petitions seeking to restrict certain forestry practices on lands that feed watersheds.
Clarno's office hired Portland law firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt to defend her decision against the legal challenge brought by Oregon Wild after Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, a Democrat, declined to provide legal help. The petitioners in that matter submitted petitions with revised language and going through the process again.
If approved by voters, Renew Oregon's petitions would have required all retail electricity to come from renewable sources by 2045 and required investments to reduce greenhouse gasses.
Clarno zeroed in on a provision of each petition that would require construction projects spurred by the new mandate to meet certain labor standards, including paying prevailing wages, offering benefits and other regulatory guidelines.
The secretary of state did allow a third petitoin from Renew Oregon that would require Oregon to eliminate all greenhouse gasses from its economy by 2050. Lisa Adatto, former Oregon director of Climate Solutions and a chief petitioner for the two rejected proposals, said Clarno's interpretation of the single-subject rule is a major shift from how prospective ballot initiatives are vetted and poses a threat to the way Oregon's citizens participate in their democracy.
"Legally, I think it's out of line and inconsistent with many years of practice and law," Adatto said. "Underlying it all for me is to protect our children and our environment to have a safe and healthy future."
Renew Oregon's rebuke of the decision was sharp and included comment from Oregon attorney Margaret Olney. Olney spent years in private practice representing groups like Basic Rights Oregon working on issues related to the state's initiative process before serving two years as special counsel to former Attorney General John Kroger on election and administrative law. According to Olney, Clarno's ruling narrows citizen access to the ballot and is not legal.
"Until this election cycle, the single subject rule has rarely, if ever, been used to reject a proposed initiative," Olney said. "By ignoring the analysis of the attorney general, legislative counsel, the Oregon Supreme Court and inserting an exceptionally partisan review into a previously unbiased process, Secretary of State Clarno is undermining our initiative process and crippling the power of Oregonians to take their concerns directly to the voters."
According to Renew Oregon Communications Director Brad Reed, the group is currently exploring its legal and electoral options to continue fighting for these initiatives.
Reed said the group is in the process of gathering information on ways to move forward whether that's in the court or refiling modified measures.
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