Oregon voters will decide on an initiative to disqualify legislators from re-election for legislative absenteeism, including walkouts

In November, Oregon voters will decide on an initiative to disqualify legislators from re-election if they are absent from 10 legislative floor sessions without permission or excuse.

On July 5, the Oregon Secretary of State announced that the initiative had received enough signatures to make the ballot. The proposed constitutional amendment needed 149,360 valid signatures (8% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election). On May 27, 2022, the campaign filed 184,680 signatures for verification. The secretary of state reported that 155,343 signatures were valid.

Currently, the state constitution authorizes legislative chambers to punish disorderly conduct, including legislative absenteeism, with a two-thirds supermajority vote. Punishment may include the expulsion of a member.

One committee, Legislative Accountability 1, is registered in support of the initiative. As of July 5, it had reported over $1.5 million in contributions.

The initiative has received endorsements from Gov. Kate Brown (D), AFSCME Council 75, the Oregon Education Association, and SEIU Local 503. AFSCME Council 75 Associate Director Joe Baessler said, “Oregonians just understand it on its face. You don’t show up for work without a reason and you lose your job like anyone else. That makes it super popular and fair, and so it will pass.”

Several times in recent decades, members of a minority party left the state capitol or the state entirely to prevent the passage of legislation. State legislatures require a specific number of members to be present in order to conduct official business, such as debating or voting on legislation. Ballotpedia tracked five noteworthy legislative walkouts in Oregon, where legislators left the state for at least a week or received significant national media attention. The legislative walkouts occurred in 2001, 2019, 2020, and 2021. Four of the five involved Republicans walking out during Democratic control of the state legislature, and one involved the inverse—Democrats walking out during a Republican-controlled state legislature.

The deadline to file signatures for ballot initiatives in Oregon is July 8. Sixty initiatives were filed targeting the 2022 ballot. The legislative walkout amendment is the first initiative to qualify for the ballot. 

Oregon voters will also be deciding on two legislative referrals. One would add “affordable health care as a fundamental right” to the state constitution, and the other would repeal language allowing slavery or involuntary servitude as criminal punishment.

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