Oregon voters to decide on removing slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishment from state constitution in 2022

On June 24, the Oregon State Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment to voters in November 2022 that would remove language that allows slavery or involuntary servitude for duly convicted individuals. The amendment would also add language to authorize an Oregon court or a probation or parole agency to order alternatives to incarceration for a convicted individual as part of their sentencing.

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 10 (SJR 10) on January 11, 2021. It was sponsored by Democratic Senators James Manning Jr., Lew Frederick, and Rob Wagner. On April 14, 2021, the state Senate passed SJR 10 in a vote of 27-2 with one excused. On June 22, 2021, the state House passed SJR 10 with amendments in a vote of 51-7 with one excused. On June 24, 2021, the Senate concurred with the House amendments by a vote of 25-4 with one excused.

Oregonians Against Slavery Involuntary Servitude (OASIS) is leading the campaign in support of the amendment. They said, “SJR 10 would remove the exception of slavery and involuntary servitude from the Oregon State Constitution and brings us one step closer to a more just and equitable state and world. By changing this language, Oregon would do away with the antiquated racist legacy of slavery in our State’s most important document.”

In November 2022, Tennessee voters will also decide on a constitutional amendment to remove language that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments. It would be replaced with the statement, “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited.”

In 2020, voters in Nebraska and Utah voted to remove language from their respective constitutions that allowed the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments. Nebraska Amendment 1 was approved by a margin of 68.23% to 31.77%. Utah Constitutional Amendment C was approved by a margin of 80.48% to 19.52%. Voters in Colorado approved a similar amendment in 2018 after rejecting the proposal in 2016.

Ten states, including Oregon, have constitutions that included provisions prohibiting enslavement and involuntary servitude but with an exception for criminal punishments. Nine states have constitutions that include provisions permitting involuntary servitude, but not slavery, as a criminal punishment. One state—Vermont—has a constitutional provision permitting involuntary servitude to pay a debt, damage, fine, or cost. These constitutional provisions were added to state constitutions, in their original forms, from the 1850s to the 1890s. 

In 2022, Oregon voters will also decide on a constitutional amendment to require the state to “ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right.” 

From 1995 to 2020, the number of measures on Oregon ballots during even-numbered years ranged from four to 32. 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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