Oregon voters will decide on whether to add a right to affordable healthcare to the state constitution in 2022

On May 19, the Oregon State Legislature voted to refer a constitutional amendment to the 2022 ballot that would add a new section requiring the state to “ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right.” The amendment would also add a provision requiring the right to affordable healthcare be “balanced against the public interest in funding public schools and other essential public services.”

Rep. Rob Nosse (D), one of the chief sponsors of the amendment, said, “Burdensome medical bills, or medical conditions that go untreated because of a lack of financial resources, cause great strain to families and individuals all over this state. They hold people back, causing them to forego starting a business, getting an education, buying a home, or having children. This amendment is a practical and sober statement of what the people of this state need.”

Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod (R), who voted in opposition to the measure, said, “It’s going to either be an absolutely empty promise that we have no intention of keeping, or it’s going to be a right that’s going to bankrupt the state.”

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a simple majority is required in both the Oregon State Senate and the Oregon House of Representatives.

This amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 12 (SJR 12) on January 11, 2021. On March 18, 2021, the state Senate passed SJR 12 largely along party lines in a vote of 17-13. Independent Senator Brian Boquist and Democratic Senator Betsy Johnson joined the Republican minority. On May 19, 2021, the House approved SJR 12 along party lines by a vote of 34-23 with three excused. 

The amendment was proposed in the state legislature at least eight times in the last 16 years according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. During the 2020 legislative session, Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D) proposed the amendment. It was approved largely along party lines in the Oregon House of Representatives by a vote of 36-21 with three excused. One Democrat joined the Republican minority in the vote. 

The amendment did not receive a vote in the Oregon State Senate due to a legislative walkout. On February 24, 2020, 11 of the 12 Republican members of the Senate did not attend the regularly scheduled morning Senate floor session. Democrats held 18 seats, two short of the 20 members needed for a quorum. On March 5, Senate President Peter Courtney (D) and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) adjourned their respective chambers early due to the lack of a quorum.

The amendment is the first ballot measure to be referred to the Oregon 2022 ballot. From 1995 to 2020, the number of measures on statewide ballots during even-numbered years ranged from four to 32, and the average number of measures was 14. Between 1995 and 2020, about 46.43% (78 of 168) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots during even-numbered years were approved, and about 53.57% (90 of 168) were defeated.

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