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Legislature must act to clarify Measure 37

Lawmakers need to receive broad input from around Oregon about the measure

Tinkering with the will of the people is a hazardous, but necessary, endeavor for the Oregon Legislature to undertake as it considers the ramifications of ballot Measure 37.

More than two years after voters approved the property-rights measure, it remains unclear how Oregonians will navigate between two seemingly conflicting values: The desire for well-planned growth versus an insistence upon fairness to property owners.

Measure 37's stated intent was to provide relief to longtime landowners who believed that they were harmed financially by the state's land-use laws. The measure accomplishes this by requiring governments either to compensate the property owners for value lost due to land-use laws or to allow them to develop their property as would have been permitted before the laws' implementation.

That relatively simple concept of fairness was appealing to voters. But the number of Measure 37 claims - about 6,500 were filed before an important December deadline - provides compelling evidence that the initiative's impact was more than initially imagined.

Take a pause and evaluate

Both the nature of the claims and the sheer volume are reason for the Oregon Legislature to enforce a 'timeout' - a pause in the action - on all but the simplest Measure 37 claims until it can sort through the issues and propose changes to the law.

We doubt voters were thinking about allowing more billboards. They probably weren't concerned about the development rights of timber companies or about large, urban developers who want to construct high-rises.

Yet Measure 37 opened doors to those types of landowners as well as to people like Dorothy English - the 92-year-old woman whose decades-long struggle to subdivide her 20 acres near Portland was the centerpiece of the pro-Measure 37 campaign.

Find out what Oregonians think

While we believe that Measure 37's consequence goes beyond what voters expected, legislators also must keep in mind that Oregonians approved a version of this measure not once, but twice. (The first, 2000's Measure 7, was overturned in court.)

That means any rewrite of Measure 37 must provide for property rights fairness, but as important, we think, must tame excesses.

The only way to achieve such balance is for the Legislature to seek broad input from throughout Oregon. Lawmakers should commission public opinion polls to determine where the public stands on this issue today.

They need to conduct Measure 37 hearings outside of Salem and in places such as Hood River, La Grande and Klamath Falls to hear from Oregonians who are affected by land-use matters and Measure 37.

Legislators also should conduct focus groups among citizens to test the language of any legislative changes or replacement measure that might be referred to voters.

And the Legislature must work with those who wrote the measure - representatives of Oregonians in Action - to ensure that any legislative adjustments don't set off another war over Oregon's land-use laws.

But let's all be clear. While seeking to address the matter of fairness, Measure 37 has created a hole in Oregon's land-use system - a system that protects Oregon's farm and forest lands, controls sprawl and allows for orderly development. Those are values that Oregonians still support.

It's now time for the Legislature to do what it should have done years ago: Ignore the extremes in this debate and come up with a law that honors Oregonians' love of the land, commitment to appropriate land use and their sense of fairness.