Proposals regulating guns, walkouts and tax kickers could be on 2022 ballot

Connor Radnovich
Salem Statesman Journal
Joe Paterno, center, rests his hand on boxes containing 2,000 signatures each for initiative petitions 17 and 18 outside the Oregon Public Service Building on June 2. Paterno leads the organizing side of the signature-gathering effort.

When the coronavirus pandemic first struck Oregon in March of last year, it derailed the efforts of many initiative petitioners trying to get their proposals on the ballot and in front of Oregon voters.

A handful of those petitioners are back this election cycle with similar ideas.

Petitioners say they feel more comfortable gathering the thousands of signatures necessary to reach the November 2022 ballot with vaccine rates rising and COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

Statutory petitions have until July 8 to submit 112,020 valid signatures to the Secretary of State's Office, while constitutional petitions must submit 149,360 by the same date.

Firearm, magazine restrictions

For the third consecutive election cycle, Lift Every Voice Oregon is attempting to place before Oregon voters measures that would dramatically change gun ownership laws in the state.

The Rev. Mark Knutson, chief petitioner and pastor at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, said he is confident they will get their petitions on the ballot this year.

Both Initiative Petition 17 and IP 18 have been approved for circulation as of mid-November. Knutson said they have a network of signature gatherers in every county in the state and plenty of time.

"We’re in it to get it on the ballot so Oregonians can make the decision," Knutson said. "(Gun violence) is the public safety issue of our day."

Economists:Oregon's revenue still strong; ongoing inflation presents challenges

IP 17 would require anyone interested in buying a gun to go through a permitting process. This process would include a background check as well as training in classroom and live-fire settings. 

The permit would be good for five years and would be renewable.

The petition would also ban the sale and manufacture of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, with exceptions for on-duty use by military and law enforcement personnel.

IP 18 would ban the manufacture, purchase, use and possession of "semi-automatic assault firearms" beyond its effective date, and require all previously purchased firearms that qualify to be registered within 180 days of the effective date.

Any registered firearm could still be legally used: on private property, for hunting, at shooting ranges, in competition and at educational exhibitions. Impermissible use would qualify as a Class A misdemeanor on the first offense, with higher penalties possible for additional offenses.

The petition lists dozens of rifles that would be subjected to the new restrictions.

Semi-automatic shotguns and semi-automatic pistols would also qualify as "assault-style" if they have any one of a number of augmentations or attachments.

For pistols, these include: a threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip or silencer; a second handgrip; or a stabilizing brace or any similar component.

These petitions are similar to a trio of petitions the faith-based coalition proposed during the 2020 election cycle. Only one of those was approved to circulate, but it did not qualify for the ballot after petitioners decided not to gather signatures during the pandemic. 

The coalition also attempted to get a measure on the 2018 ballot, but they began the process quite late in the cycle and ran out of time. 

Lift Every Voice Oregon came into being in the aftermath of the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 14 students and three staff members were killed.

“We want a safe state and we want to promote safety and reduce gun violence," Knutson said. "We want our children and our young people to thrive.” 

Punishing legislative walkouts

Republicans in the Oregon House and Senate have walked out a handful of times over the past three legislative sessions, denying or slowing the passage of many Democratic priority bills. 

A left-leaning coalition of labor unions, conservation groups and progressive activists are backing several initiative petitions to make the practice less effective.

The petitions would alter the state constitution by imposing fines and other punishments upon those who walk out, as well as counteract the purpose of the strategy by extending the legislative session.

"These measures are about holding politicians accountable. We are seeing politicians walk away from their constitutional duties on a regular basis here in Oregon. Our coalition doesn’t think that’s acceptable, and neither do voters," chief petitioner Andrea Kennedy-Smith said in a statement. 

IP 14 would prohibit lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences during a regular or special legislative session from holding state legislative office for the term following their current term.

IP 15 would fine lawmakers $500 per day of unexcused absence and withhold any salary, per diem or expense reimbursement for those days. It would also prohibit lawmakers from using political contributions to pay fines or offset lost salary, per diem or expense reimbursement.

IP 26 would implement similar fines and penalties as IP 14 and IP 15, but would also stipulate that any day either legislative chamber cannot reach a quorum when one is called for does not count toward the calendar-day limits for session (160 in odd years, 35 in even years). The petition would also change the Legislature's quorum requirement from two-thirds to simple majority if a quorum cannot be reached for five cumulative days in a session.

Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, takes a picture of the roll call screen showing 11 absent or excused Republican senators from the Senate floor inside the Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem on Feb. 24, 2020. Eleven of the 12 Senate Republicans walked out from the Oregon Capitol on Monday in protest of a greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade bill.

Oregon is one of few states with a two-thirds legislative quorum requirement. So while Democrats have been in the supermajority in recent legislative sessions — meaning they can pass most bills without Republican support — they have still needed Republicans in the chamber to conduct any legislative businesses.

Republican lawmakers contend that quorum denial is a legitimate tactic, particularly when a party is in the superminority and has little power to begin with. 

They also argue Democrats have utilized walkouts in the past, most notably in 2001 around redistricting. But Republicans have done so with regularity in recent years.

Oregon evictions:Time has run out to prevent evictions for tens of thousands in Oregon

A lengthy walkout in the 2019 session drew national attention as Senate Republicans effectively stymied Democrats from passing a greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade bill.

Republicans have also walked out over K-12 education funding, COVID-19 restrictions and the speed of the legislative process.

Hannah Love, a consultant with a coalition backing the initiative petitions, said organizations that have had bills killed by walkouts in recent years are strong supporters of the measures.

Other supportive groups include those who have felt the need to self-censure as a result of the walkouts, not advocating for ambitious proposals in fear they could derail an entire session, Love said.

Oregon People's Rebate

Chief petitioner Antonio Gisbert of Philomath describes IP 6 — also known as the Oregon People's Rebate — as "the kicker done right."

Those on the political left have long argued that Oregon's unique kicker rebate benefits wealthy Oregonians far more than the average taxpayer.

Next year, for example, the median Oregonian (making between $35,000 and $40,000) will receive about $420, while the top 1% of earners (making more than $442,700) could see upwards of $17,000.

IP 6 would give an estimated $750 to each Oregonian by taxing certain large corporations a 3% tax on gross annual sales of goods and services in Oregon above $25 million.

Children would also receive their share from the state. So for a family of four, the rebate would equal about $3,000.

While this money wouldn't necessarily be life-changing, Gisbert said, it could be enough for a deposit on an apartment or a down payment on a better car.

The funding structure is similar to Measure 97 from 2016, which was estimated to raise $3 billion annually from a 2.5% tax. Voters rejected Measure 97 by a margin of 59% to 41% after the most expensive ballot initiative campaign in state history.

Gisbert said he hopes small and medium-sized business owners will support IP 6 because their businesses won't be subject to the tax, “but all of their customers will have an extra $750 that they might spend in that store."

Federal legislation:Oregon will receive over $5 billion in 5 years from Biden's infrastructure bill

Gisbert said the concept of the government sending people checks in the mail received a lot of support when it was coronavirus-related stimulus checks, and this idea isn't dissimilar. 

“Everybody cashed their stimulus check and everybody understands the big Wall Street corporations are not paying their fair share," he said.

A person would qualify for the rebate if they spent at least 200 days living in the state during the previous calendar year.

The annual rebate would begin in 2024.

The initiative was approved to gather signatures in July.

Mark Callahan (left), vice-chair of the Clackamas County Republican Party, talks with Jim Drago of Salem as he signs one of the four petitions being offered at the Oregon GOP's booth at the Oregon State Fair in Salem on Aug. 24, 2019. The petitions include two separate recalls of Gov. Kate Brown.

Other initiatives this cycle

A number of other initiatives are also making their way through the process to get on the November 2022 ballot. Here are a few:

  • IP 13 — Would criminalize injuring or killing animals, including for food, hunting and fishing. It would also add most animal breeding practices to the crime of "sexual assault of an animal." The petition has been approved for circulation. 
  • IP 35/36/37 — Variations of the same petition that would allow grocery stores and wholesalers to sell distilled liquors. This concept has been pursued by major grocers in the past.
  • IP 40 — Would institute ranked-choice voting in campaigns with three or more candidates for governor, state legislative seats and Congress. 
  • IP 42 — Would decriminalize sex work in Oregon.

Reporter Connor Radnovich covers the Oregon Legislature and state government. Contact him at cradnovich@statesmanjournal.com or 503-399-6864, or follow him on Twitter at @CDRadnovich.