Democracy Spotlight: Oregon’s 2023 Legislative Session
One month into Oregon’s 2023 legislative session, state legislators have filed nearly 100 democracy-related bills – legislation with the power to strengthen or weaken our democracy.
Common Cause Oregon is closely watchdogging the process and weighing in on the bills most consequential to Oregon’s democracy – and you – as the session unfolds. These are the bills we’ve endorsed thus far, along with an outlook on what’s ahead.
ENDORSED BY COMMON CAUSE OREGON
- SCR 1 – Support for County Clerks & Election Workers – Filed at the request of Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagen, this bill expresses support for county clerks and election workers, who in recent years have faced violent threats, election disinformation, natural disasters, and a pandemic. While the gesture is only symbolic, the respect and appreciation for these unsung heroes is genuine.
- SB 579 – Guaranteed Voting Rights – Chief sponsored by Senators Prozanski, Gelser Blouin, Dembrow, Jama, and Manning, and championed by Common Cause Oregon and a broad coalition of public interest groups, this bill protects Oregonians’ right to register to vote, update voter registration, and vote in elections while incarcerated.
- HB 2107 – Automatic Voter Registration – Filed at the request of Secretary of State Fagen, this bill extends Oregon’s successful automatic voter registration to the Oregon Health Authority to provide another way for more Oregonians to conveniently and securely register to vote.
- HJR 4, HJR 18 – Same Day Voter Registration – These two identical bills, one filed at the request of Secretary of State Fagan, and one at the request of House Majority Leader Fahey, refer a state constitutional amendment to the voters to allow Oregonians to register to vote up to and on the day of an election.
- HJR 20, HB 3206, HB 2694 – Lowering the Voting Age – Having played a pivotal role in lowering the federal voting age from 21 to 18 back in the early 1970’s, Common Cause continues to support young adult access to the ballot, including these 3 proposals: HB 2694, chief sponsored by Representative Dan Rayfield, permits 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 in time to vote in the general election; HB 3206, chief sponsored by Representatives Bowman, Nguyen, Bynum, Neron and Nosse and Senator Sollman, allows 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in school district elections; and HJR 20, chief sponsored by Representatives Nguyen and Nosse and Senator Dembrow, sends a state constitutional amendment to voters to lower the voting age for Oregon elections to 16.
- HB 2004 – Rank Choice Voting – Chief sponsored by Representatives Rayfield, Fahey, Reynolds, Marsh, and Senator Sollman, and backed by a broad community coalition including Common Cause Oregon, this bill establishes ranked choice voting as the voting method for Oregon’s federal and statewide elections and also allows its adoption for local elections.
- HB 2112 – Tribal Interests in Public Records Retention – Filed at the request of Secretary of State Fagen, this bill updates Oregon public records law to better respect the interests of Oregon Tribes in state records retention. The bill adds “tribal cultural value” (along with legal, fiscal, and historical value) as criteria for public state records retention decisions, while also making statutory language more accessible by updating out-of-date technology terms.
- SB 169 – Voters Pamphlet Translation – Filed at the request of Secretary of State Fagen, this bill would increase the number of languages in which the Voters Pamphlet is available, expanding access to essential voter information to a greater number of Oregon voters for whom English is a second language.
- HB 3173 – Task Force on Tribal Consultation – Chief sponsored by Rep. Tawna Sanchez, this bill creates a task force on Tribal consultation to include representatives from all 9 federally recognized Tribes in Oregon and from state agencies required to consult with Tribes – tasked with studying and making recommendations to strengthen compliance with Oregon’s Tribal Consultation law which creates a framework for government-to-government collaboration between sovereign governments.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
As Oregon’s 2023 legislative session unfolds, these are other democracy-related issues we’ll all want to keep an eye on.
Voting & Elections
This session, Oregonians face dozens of elections bills – some exciting, some more mundane. We’ll have a shot at passing impactful model reforms to strengthen voting rights and improve access to the ballot, while also making many smaller adjustments to keep Oregon’s elections systems up-to-date and secure. Secretary of State Fagen has introduced over a dozen bills, packaged together as an agenda to “Protect Our Democracy,” including addressing election security, access, and funding. But watch out for bad bills! You may be surprised by the many bills that, if passed, would roll back Oregon’s reputation for well-run, accessible elections – there’s even one to end vote-by-mail!
Campaign Finance Reform
As Oregon’s money-in-politics problem continues to grow, and with a strong call from voters to address it, the state legislature is likely to make another attempt at campaign finance reform. We know what works to significantly reduce big money influence – a combination of limits, transparency and public funding – and Oregon must address all three. The devil is in the details, and there’s always pressure to write the rules to advantage one interest over another. In 2021, legislators came close to passing a bill that The Oregonian exposed as fake reform. To avoid a similar fate, and finally pass true reform, Oregonians will need to stay engaged and weigh in on this critical issue.
Other Democracy Issues
Legislators have also filed dozens of bills on government ethics, transparency, efficiency and equity. Some deal with Oregon public records and public meeting laws. Others aim to counter the erosion of local media that supports a healthy democracy. There are several bills focused on language access, and though no bill has yet been filed, legislators promised to bring back and work on a proposal for routinely considering the racial impacts of legislation.
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