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Bill provides for nonpartisan voters guide

by: Spotlight file photo Rep. Brad Witt (D—Clatskanie) represents House district 31 and can be reached at www.leg.state.or.us/witt/ or at 503-986-1431

A very important bill passed the final test in the Senate on June 1, with very little fanfare. It was HB 2634, the bill that officially establishes the Citizens' Initiative Review Commission.

This legislation puts into statute a pilot project begun in 2008, which gathers citizens from across the state to write nonpartisan statements on initiative proposals for Oregon's voter guide.

I can't tell you how many times constituents have asked me, 'Why can't someone review proposed ballot measures before they get to the ballot box to make sure they are truthful and will pass constitutional muster?' It has been very difficult to design a way to do that that would not interfere with the initiative process.

Oregon is the birthplace of direct democracy, having introduced the initiative and referendum to the nation, and any attempt to filter ballot measures has been greatly resisted.

In 2008, the first Citizen Initiative Review was conducted as a pilot project focusing on one initiative. The CIR process involves a panel of 23 registered voters from across the state, chosen using a stratified random sampling procedure to ensure the resulting panel is a fair representation of Oregon's voting population in terms of age, gender, race, education, place of residence and political affiliation.

Over a period of several days, panelists hear from initiative proponents, opponents, and background witnesses. With the assistance of trained moderators, the panelists debate the merits of the initiatives that will appear on the ballot. The panel then develops a Citizens' Statement containing their conclusions and analysis of the ballot measure for the voters' guide.

In 2010, the pilot project was expanded to include all proposed statewide initiatives. At a time in our history when record amounts of money are being spent on advertising, and there are practically no limits on what is said or by whom, HB 2634 cuts through all the noise and chatter to make sure the voices of ordinary citizens are heard.

Although the Department of Administrative Services will provide reimbursable funding to help get the commission up and running, the Citizen Initiative Review Commission will be funded by private donations.

It is comforting to know that, in Oregon, people value this precious symbol of direct democracy enough to donate both their time and money to protect it from abuse. Then again, I am not surprised. HB 2634 now goes to the governor for his signature.

Another really great consumer protection measure passed both chambers, SB 487. This bill prohibits the automatic renewal of a product subscription or service without first obtaining the consumer's approval. In addition, the terms of the contract cannot be hidden somewhere in the fine print of the offer. The terms must be 'clear and conspicuous' and the method to terminate the contract must be reasonably accessible and in a form that can be kept by the consumer.

Once the company or organization has unilaterally renewed the contract, it is very difficult to cancel. Some customers have had their contracts continued without their consent and then they have faced aggressive collection efforts.

If such a contract is offered or renewed without satisfying all of the requirements of disclosure, any product provided to the consumer as part of the arrangement is deemed an unconditional gift to the consumer. I think that will get their attention. The bill is on its way to the governor.