Saturday, October 18, 2014

On Oregon's 2014 Ballot Initiatives

2014 is actually a fairly light year for ballot initiatives. Some years there are dozens. This year it's just seven.

Here's a quick run-down, according to Ballotpedia:
  • Measure 86: Amends Oregon Constitution to create fund for Oregonians pursuing post-secondary education; authorizes debt to finance
  • Measure 87: Allows judges to be hired by the National Guard and public universities; allows school employees to serve in the legislature
  • Measure 88: Upholds four-year driver licenses for those who cannot prove legal presence in the United States
  • Measure 89: Guarantees equal rights regardless of sex
  • Measure 90: Creates an open, top-two primary election system
  • Measure 91: Legalizes recreational marijuana; tasks Oregon Liquor Control Commission with regulation of its sale
  • Measure 92: Mandates labeling of certain foodstuffs that contain genetically modified organisms

For reference, the actual Oregon Constitution can be found here. Also note that although only measure 86 says it in the description, measures 86, 87, and 89 all amend the Oregon Constitution.

What follows is a wall skyscraper of text that will mean next-to-nothing to non-Oregonians — although I see some under-handed tactics here that may play in your state, too. Click through if you're still interested. (It won't offend me if you're not.)

So here are my thoughts:

Measure 86: This basically adds a Constitutional amendment that creates a State-owned and -run fund to pay for college. Because the total costs aren't completely known (as is normal for any new program), they have to authorize the legislature to increase the State's debt load in order to pay for it. In my opinion, there are plenty of private opportunities for tuition assistance or financial aid; we have no need for a publicly-provided one, and the State certainly has no need to take on more debt. I'm voting 'NO'.

Measure 87: Article III, Section 1 of the Oregon Constitution states that "no person charged with official duties under one of these branches [Legislative, Executive, and Judicial], shall exercise any of the functions of another, except as in this Constitution expressly provided." An amendment was added (Article XV, Section 8) to allow employees of the State Board of Higher Education to serve as members of the Legislature, and vice versa. This would extend that exception — amend the amendment, if you will — to allow judges to serve in the National Guard and teach at public universities (and vice versa: allow Guard members and public university teachers to serve as judges). I'm … not 100% sure on this one, but because I feel that judges are expected to be impartial, they should not have any other interests in other branches of government. I'm leaning to 'NO', but not totally decided yet.

(Interestingly, Ballotpedia's interpretation of the current Article XV, Section 8 is completely incorrect; they say it prohibits Higher Education employees from serving in the Legislature, when the plain text expressly says such an employee "shall be eligible".)

Measure 88: First, a bit of background: Oregon Drivers licenses (DLs) require proof of citizenship or legal residence in the United States. Last year, the DMV was directed to start providing "driver cards" (DCs) to people who met all other qualifications for driving legally, but couldn't prove legal residence (a.k.a. undocumented illegal immigrants). The revised law says that a DC must be labeled as a DC — and not a DL — and have one other feature distinguishing it from a DL (to be determined by DMV rule, not by law), and that it "may be used only" to provide evidence of driving privileges; to identify a person as an anatomical donor, emancipated minor, or a veteran; to provide a DL number (in practical terms, a database identifier — a "primary key" to you data admin buffs); and to assist law enforcement in identifying a missing person. It cannot, therefore, be used to board a plane, buy a gun, buy alcohol, or provide proof of citizenship or legal immigration status.

Now, contrast those legal "facts" with the DMV's FAQs page on non-citizen driver cards, wherein it says that it will be up to the TSA or the individual sellers to decide whether to accept a DC to board a plane, buy a gun, or buy alcohol, and it will be up to individual police departments whether a DC is good for anything other than ID during routine traffic stops. That same page also does NOT show or tell what that "one other feature" is that distinguishes it from a DL. Therefore, you just KNOW someone who's not familiar with the difference won't be able to tell a DC from a DL, and will accept either equally, even when they're not supposed to.

This measure is a vote to repeal SB 833 from last year, which provided for driver cards. A "Yes" vote is a vote to keep SB 833 on the books, and a "No" vote is a vote to repeal and allow driver licenses to stand alone (note: even without SB 833, a non-citizen who couldn't prove legal residence could still get a "limited term driver" card that still requires the person to comply with all driving laws [including passing knowledge and driving tests, and carrying insurance], and expires when the person is no longer authorized to remain in the U.S.). I'm voting 'NO'; there's no reason to maintain two levels of driver cards for undocumented illegal immigrants, especially when it's unclear precisely what one of them is — and is not — valid for.

Measure 89: I'll start by saying, I'm all for equal rights. Currently, Article I, Section 20 of the Oregon Constitution affirms that no law can grant a privilege or immunity to one citizen or class of citizens, that does not equally apply to all citizens. The Oregon Supreme Court has already ruled that this prohibition applies to gender as well, unless justified by specific biological differences between men and women. Even the ACLU of Oregon agrees, the existing ruling makes for pretty darn equal rights (full disclosure: they oppose this measure), but this measure would re-amend the Constitution to prohibit even those biological justifications.

So it seems to be a solution in search of a problem, and I think it could be taken to extremes. Under the new amendment, it's possible that a male sex offender could hang out in the women's restroom in any public building; the powers-that-be wouldn't be able to legally prohibit that, even though he's a man — a specific biological difference that would justify the old law, but which is forbidden under the new. OK, that's an extreme. How about something a little more … mainstream?

Oregon has a ban on same-sex marriages*. We do allow same-sex civil unions, for the purposes of taxation, adoption, medical and death benefits, and other legal/government interests, but not "marriages". I believe measure 89 is a pot-shot at that ban. Let me explain**: Article XV, Section 5a says very simply, "It is the policy of Oregon, and its political subdivisions, that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or legally recognized as a marriage." The use of the words "man" and "woman" invokes the specific biological difference between men and women that allows this amendment to stand. Measure 89 would remove that justification. They haven't been able to repeal the ban, so they're trying another tactic. Sneaky bastards.

I think this is a bad idea, not because I'm anti-man, anti-woman, or don't believe in equal rights, but because I do acknowledge that there are biological differences between men and women and that the legal system should be allowed to differentiate for them. Rights are rights, regardless of what your private bits look like. Some laws and policies, on the other hand, are perfectly reasonable, even if they differentiate and apply differently based on gender. I'm going with 'NO' on this one.

Measure 90: This is a terrible, terrible idea. It creates an open primary system, wherein the top two candidates advance to the general ballot. They're billing it as "great for third parties", but in reality it'd be the end of third parties. Heck, Oregon is liberal enough that your binary choice come November might be between the Democrat Party candidate and the Progressive Party one. In all likelihood, it'd be a Dem and a GOP, but say goodbye to any hope for Libertarians or Constitutionalists. I'm voting 'NO' on this one only because 'HELL, NO!' isn't an option.

Measure 91: Ah, yes, the perennial "legalize pot" initiative. I'll admit I haven't read through the actual proposed law (it's about 10 pages of ultra-tiny text), but the libertarian in me believes that marijuana just isn't much more harmful than alcohol, and that's legal to adults over 21, albeit highly regulated. We've allowed marijuana for medicinal purposes for some time, although the licensed dispensaries have been a bit of a neighborhood pariah, petitioned and protested against and treated like adult shops and gun stores in Chicago; everyone knows they're legal, but nobody wants them in their neighborhood.

This bill would place marijuana regulation under the purview of the same group that licenses alcohol brewers/distillers and sellers, provides that driving under the influence is still illegal (whether under the influence of alcohol or weed), and sets up a tax structure on the new "industry". Trading outright crimes for regulations — tough call. Black market weed will presumably be as illegal as illicit alcohol (e.g. moonshine), but most people are willing to pay a little more to stay legal (emphasis on "a little"). I'll put it as a tentative 'YES', to be updated as I have a chance to read the proposal in full.

Measure 92: Labeling genetically-modified and -engineered (GMO) foodstuffs seems to be a controversial issue around here, and passionate people abound on both sides. We've been inundated by more TV ads for/against this measure than all the others combined. I think that food producers should label their packaging if GMOs are used, but my inner libertarian is uncomfortable with mandating that. Plus, the proposal includes some exemptions — restaurants are exempt from labeling their menu items (understandably; tracking down every ingredient used is impractical), as is animal feed (so therefore the dairy and meat products from animals fed GMO feed is exempt). Interestingly, also exempt (from enforcement) is the retailer, if the retailer is also the manufacturer and sells the product under its own brand (think: store brands), unless it's a raw agricultural product (raw fruits and veggies).

Overall, it doesn't sound too bad, and the cost-per-consumer is estimated at $2.30 per person per year; not exactly a bank-breaker. Still, it's dependent on the "knowledge" standard: if a producer or manufacturer knows their products contain GMOs and don't label them, they're liable, but if they don't know, they don't have to label them whether the products actually do or not. Seems to me to be ripe for a "should have known" lawsuit, and the only entities exempt from that by law are the farmer — unless the farmer is also the retailer or manufacturer — and the retailer, if the retailer controls the products from ingredients-to-store. It's a tentative 'NO' from me, due to the "knowledge"-based application of enforcement and the amount and type of exemptions***.

So that's it for this year. Note that these are my opinions, nobody else's, and I am not trying to persuade anyone to vote any way; I'm just putting my logic and findings out there. If you're not sure, read the proposals yourself. It's the only way to be sure you're performing your civic duty responsibly****.

Carry on. Stay safe out there.
* - Agree with it or not, it's there, voted in by the People of Oregon in 2004. Personally, I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, but I also think codifying that discrimination into the Oregon Constitution was a bad idea.
** - No, there is too much. Let me sum up. ;) *** - Besides, there's an easier, albeit more expensive way: buy organic or kosher. Neither will contain GMOs.
**** - You do want to perform your civic duty responsibly, don't you?

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