Legislative Update: Halfway Through 2023 Legislative Session
Halfway through Oregon’s 2023 legislative session, here’s a quick update on what your legislators are doing – on your behalf – to impact democracy.
- Support for County Clerks & Election Workers (SCR1) – The Legislature passed this resolution in late March. It expresses support for the people who run our elections, acknowledging the increased pressures they’ve faced in recent years due to violent threats, election disinformation, wildfires and pandemic. While the bill is only a symbolic gesture, the respect and appreciation for these unsung heroes is genuine.
FINAL VOTE SCHEDULED
- Tribal Interests in Public Records Retention (HB 2112A) – This bill has passed out of the House and is scheduled to pass out of the Senate this week (but faces continued delays due to a slow-down in the Senate). The bill updates Oregon public records law to better respect the interests of Oregon Tribes in the state’s records retention process by adding “tribal cultural value” as one of the criteria for public state records retention decisions. The bill also makes statutory language more accessible by updating out-of-date technology terms.
- Campaign Finance Reform – Common Cause has not yet endorsed any bills on campaign finance reform, but we’re closely watchdogging and weighing in on the issue. Legislative leadership has expressed interest to pass legislation this session to fix Oregon’s broken campaign finance regulatory system. But unfortunately, leadership’s initial bills contain large enough loopholes to make them ineffective. These initial bills are placeholders and could be amended to provide the real reform we need. But it will take leadership to get it done. So far, no campaign finance bills are moving.
- Improving Voter Registration (HB2107A, HJR4, HJR18) – Legislators are considering two ways to make Oregon’s voter registration process more accessible and secure. HB2107A would expand Oregon’s successful Automatic Voter Registration program – which streamlines voter registration as an automatic part of interacting with public agencies. The bill would extend AVR to the Oregon Health Authority, providing another way for more Oregonians to conveniently and securely register to vote. HJR4 and HJR18 – two identical bills for Same-Day Voter Registration – would get rid of unnecessary registration deadlines that all too often disenfranchise eligible voters, and instead allow voters to register and vote right up to Election Day. Last week, Common Cause supporters reached out to their legislators about these bills, and now legislators have scheduled to vote the AVR bill out of committee this week.
- Guaranteeing Voting Rights (SB 579) – This bill would protect the right of every eligible Oregonian to register to vote, update their voter registration, and cast their ballot, even while incarcerated. The bill got a first public hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee as early as January 26, and was voted out of committee on March 9 and sent to the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Public Safety on March 15 – where it still sits. It will likely take more work to get this over the finish line.
- Lowering the Voting Age (HJR20, HB3206, HB2694) – On February 21, the House Committee on Rules held a public hearing on three bills to lower the Oregon voting age. HB 2694 would permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 in time to vote in the general election. HB 3206 would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in school district elections. And HJR 20, would send a state constitutional amendment to voters to lower the voting age for all Oregon elections to 16. The hearing drew robust participation and testimony, especially in support of HJR 20, but none of these bills have yet passed out of committee.
- Ranked Choice Voting (HB2004) – This bill would establish ranked choice voting as the voting method for Oregon’s federal and statewide elections and streamline support for local jurisdictions that adopt it. Turnout at a mid-March public hearing on the bill was so high that the legislature had to extend the hearing for another day. However, the bill has not moved since.
- Voter Pamphlet Access (SB169A) – 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. The Senate Rules Committee held a public hearing on the bill on March 14 and then voted it out of the committee on the 21st, but the bill has been sitting in Ways & Means since then.
- Weakening Oregon Elections – While legislators have filed over a dozen bills that would weaken Oregon’s election system – including one to end Vote-By-Mail – so far, none of these have moved forward.
These are some of the more consequential bills we’re watching closely.
Election laws, campaign finance rules, ethics, transparency, and other governance rules – these all determine how democracy works. And that shapes the process by which we decide everything else that matters.
What happens depends on us – and we have more influence when we tune in, weigh in, and join forces to maximize our power.