What to know as Oregon’s legislature wraps up

Here’s a quick rundown on Oregon’s 2022 legislative results, with a focus on the critical issues impacting our democracy.

Common Cause watchdogged this year’s short session closely, reviewing bills, offering issue expertise, testifying, advocating, and organizing hundreds of constituent emails to legislators. Thank you for supporting this work!

Key Takeaways

  • Our biggest achievement: election protection
  • Other important advances include ridding offensive references from statute, extending ethics reporting requirements to cover elected school boards, and safeguarding media access to cover wildfires
  • But we’ve still got important work ahead on equity, voting rights and campaign finance reform

Election Protection

Our most significant achievement this session – as anti-democracy forces work to sabotage elections – may well have been passage of a suite of election protection bills. Oregon elections face increased pressures, not just from Covid and wildfires, but from an escalation of cyber security threats, disinformation campaigns, and even threats against election workers. Together, we helped pass bills that will defend election worker safety, upgrade our online voter registration system, shore up federal and state funds for critical election administration, and make other small but necessary updates to statute.

Common Cause also caught and helped stop a misguided bill that would have expanded voting via unsecure digital systems. This bill was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, framed as expanding voter access, but driven by a corporate voting systems vender with a team of professional lobbyists, working to expand market share for their equipment.

  • Election Worker Safety (HB 4144A) – passed
  • Critical Election Funding (HB 5202) – passed
  • Online Voter Registration Upgrade (HB 4133) – passed
  • Election Rules Updates (SB 1527) – passed
  • Misguided Digital Voting Bill (HB 4136) – stopped

Equitable Governance

Common Cause endorsed and organized constituent support for three bills for more equitable governance.

We were pleased to help pass Sen. Kayse Jama’s bill to use more respectful, inclusive language in Oregon statute, replacing the term “alien” with “noncitizen.” We’re glad legislators agreed to rid Oregon statute of language that many Oregonians find offensive, alienating and dehumanizing. We can do better.

We also endorsed the Opportunity to Serve Act, a bill to expand who can afford to serve as a legislator, by recognizing legislative positions as full rather than part-time employment, and supporting them with full-time salaries and supplementary childcare support where needed. However, this bill died in committee. Since this would be a significant change, it’s not surprising that the concept will take further development and consideration.

One big legislative failure stands out.

Common Cause also went to bat for an important bill to empower smarter, more equitable lawmaking through use of racial impact statements, a tool to help legislators assess potential disparate impacts of proposed legislation. This is the second year that legislators have considered this. One would hope they would want this tool in their toolbox. But sadly, despite hundreds of constituent emails from Common Cause supporters, they didn’t make it a priority.

  • Respectful Language (SB 1560 A) – passed
  • Opportunity to Serve Act (SB 1566) – left undone
  • Racial Impact Statements (HB 4107) – left undone

Voting Rights & Campaign Finance Reform

Legislators left other key work undone.

They failed to stand up for the voting rights of Oregonians who are incarcerated, continuing a practice of disenfranchisement historically used to exclude Black and poor voters. Oregonians have long opted to be trailblazers on voting rights. We look to legislators to champion voting rights, not perpetuate disenfranchisement.

And glaringly, the legislature balked again on campaign finance reform. For the second legislative session in a row since Oregonians voted in a 2020 landslide to authorize campaign finance reform, legislators failed to deliver. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State broke with longstanding legal precedent to disqualify proposed campaign finance ballot measures, stalling the ability of voters to bypass the legislature and pass specific reforms at the ballot.

It’s clear Oregon voters want big money out of our politics. Oregon’s political leadership should either get this done or get out of the way.

  • Voting Rights Restoration (HB 4147) – left undone
  • Campaign Finance Reform SB 1526A & SB 1561) – left undone

Other Notable Democracy Legislation

Legislators passed a bill to protect the media’s access to wildfires, ensuring their ability to cover wildfire news for the public. They passed another to extend ethics reporting requirements to school board members, so that potential economic conflicts of interest are transparent to the public.

Legislators considered a bill to enforce Oregon’s open meeting law, that would have given the Oregon Ethics Commission authority to investigate complaints of closed-door governance meetings, and to apply training and penalties to offending public officials as necessary. Legislators held hearings on this bill, then decided to do more work on it and bring it back next session.

Finally, a bill for independent redistricting – to end the conflict of interest of having legislators draw their own district lines – never saw the light of day.

  • Media Access to Cover Wildfires (HB 4087) – passed
  • Ethics Reporting of Economic Interests (HB 4144) – passed
  • Open Meetings Enforcement (HB 4140) – left undone
  • Independent Redistricting (HJR 204) – left undone

The Work Ahead

Across the globe, democracy is under siege. Oregon is not immune. Clearly, this is a time for strong pro-democracy leadership.

Heading into this midterm election year, we’ve still got important work to do. Together, we can organize the election protection volunteer force needed to counter election disinformation aimed at suppressing any of our communities. And as we experience the most expensive election in our state history, we can grow the movement to pass the campaign finance reforms we need.

Common Cause gives us a collective vehicle to do what none of us can do single-handedly. Thank you for joining forces to make this possible.