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Legislative test-drive unconstitutional

A 710-year-old copy of the Magna Carta was purchased for $21 million at auction last month. It was a reminder of the first time people stood up and said 'the law is king,' placing a set of commonly agreed-upon principles above the dictates of men. The Magna Carta was a framework for our constitution that today protects all people from the power of special interests through carefully established processes.

But our national and state constitutions are only effective as long as they are respected and followed.

This week I joined former Circuit Court Judge Ted Abrams in filing suit to block the legislature's decision to begin annual sessions without voter approval. I have generally supported the concept of annual sessions, but I cannot support a 'test drive' that violates the Oregon Constitution.

Under the Oregon Constitution, the people have the final right to decide how frequently their elected representatives meet. Only voters have the power to amend the Oregon Constitution. By conducting annual sessions without submitting a constitutional amendment to voters, the legislative assembly is usurping a power that belongs to the people.

As a state senator, if the 'test' annual session is convened, I will be subject to a conflict between my sworn duties. I have a duty to attend sessions of the Oregon State Senate. However, under the circumstances in which the Senate will be convened, I believe that the session will be in violation of the Oregon State Constitution, which I have sworn to support and uphold.

Oregon Constitution Article IV, Section 10 explicitly states: 'The Sessions of the Legislative Assembly shall be held biennially…' Despite the plain language of the Oregon Constitution, the Oregon Legislature plans to hold a one-month supplemental session in February for the purpose of 'testing' annual sessions.

The problem with the legislature's plan is that Article IV, Section 10(a) only allows the Legislative Assembly to hold a special session 'in the event of an emergency'. No emergency has emerged to trigger a special session.

Oregon state government has become cavalier in its attitude toward the legal process and the constitution. The legislature has begun operating with a mentality of 'ends justify the means.' Ignoring the constitution and political process has led to a pattern of legislative action that circumvents the rule of law for political goals.

Allowing the legislature to 'test' annual sessions in direct violation of the constitution is not very different from the legislature 'testing' strict limitations on freedom of speech and religion, despite the express provisions of the Oregon Constitution protecting such freedoms.

Before taking office as an Oregon State Senator, I swore an oath to uphold the Oregon Constitution. Even though I support annual sessions, I cannot support the way we have arrived at February's session. The Oregon Constitution expressly prohibits annual sessions, and we are about to ignore the limits placed on the legislature by the voters of Oregon.

If the legislature expects to regain credibility in the eyes of the public, they should start by honoring the rule of law.

Larry George, R-13, is a first-term state senator from Sherwood.