Make initiative review program permanent

One of the more interesting innovations in Oregon's electoral process would get a boost from a measure pending before the Legislature.

We've written before about the Citizens' Initiative Review, in which ballot measures get a thorough examination from a randomly selected panel of 24 voters. The voters gather for weeklong sessions during which opponents and proponents of the measures get a chance to plead their cases.

On the final day, the panel crafts a "Citizens' Statement" for inclusion in the Oregon Voters' Pamphlet. The statement details the panel's key findings and reports the numbers of panelists who support or oppose the measure.

The idea is to give voters another source of quality information about these ballot measures, which tend to get lost in the noise and chaos of our election campaigns — even though the measures often cover matters of critical importance to Oregonians.

During the 2010 election season, two measures (Measure 73, which increased minimum sentences for certain repeated sex crimes and required incarceration for repeated driving under the influence, and Measure 74, which would have established a medical marijuana dispensary system) were subjected to the citizen reviews.

The panel evaluating Measure 73 panned it, by the way, but the measure still passed in November. The panel looking at Measure 74 ended up with a generally split decision, but that measure failed at the ballot.

Regardless, the results of the citizen reviews were promising enough to justify keeping them going.

Enter House Bill 2634, which would do just that by establishing a state commission to oversee the Citizens' Initiative Review process.

The measure also creates a Citizens' Initiative Review Fund for the commission, which is restricted to donations from individuals and nonprofit foundations. No tax money would be used to fund the process, which is good: Valuable as it may be, it would be hard to make the case that the Citizens' Initiative Review deserves funding over, oh, let's say education or health care.

There's another good reason for steering clear of state funding, as pointed out by Rep. Vicki Berger, a Republican from Salem: Not taking tax money helps to ensure that the review process remains independent from state funding or influence.

We were pleased to see the names of two mid-valley legislators, Sen. Frank Morse and Rep. Andy Olson, listed as among the sponsors of House Bill 2634. The Citizens' Initiative Review is a promising idea, and the Legislature would do well to keep the idea alive, especially considering that price tag.

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