Judge denies request to block petition law


A judge has rejected a request to block a new law governing how petitions are gathered for initiative measures in Oregon, including a provision to collect them over the Internet.

Opponents argued that the law restricts political speech, while the Oregon secretary of state and the attorney general say it is intended to make gathering petition signatures easier and less vulnerable to fraud.

Marion County Circuit Judge Dennis Graves agreed with state officials, ruling Tuesday that the law "governs conduct incidental to speech but not the content of speech."

Opponents had sought a preliminary injunction to block the law. They included several chief petitioners on initiatives and Democracy Direct Inc., a signature-gathering business in Clackamas County.

Tyler Smith, attorney for Democracy Direct, said Wednesday that the lawsuit will continue.

"I don't think that the secretary of state or anybody else disputes that initiative petitioning is core political speech," Smith said. "Our position is any law that puts more regulations in your way restricts you."

But the Oregon attorney general's office said the purpose of the law is to improve the way the petition signature process is managed, not to affect the kinds of petitions that are offered to voters.

"We believe the law was constitutionally sound as passed," said Stephanie Soden, the attorney general's spokeswoman. "So we're going to move to implement the law."

House Bill 2082 was approved largely along party lines last year in the Legislature, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans lined up against it.

The law deals mainly with initiative measures, but provisions dealing with paid signature gatherers apply as well to referendums and recalls.

Among those challenging the law was Russ Walker, western states director for the FreedomWorks anti-tax group and vice chairman of the Oregon Republican Party's Central Committee.

State Rep. Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, defended the bill. She said "well-publicized instances of fraud and forgery" led to it.

Rosenbaum noted she has been the chief petitioner on two initiatives to raise the state minimum wage, so she has experienced the process.

"I would never have supported or carried any legislation that really took away Oregonians' rights to access this process," Rosenbaum said. "It really is meant to return the initiative to its original intent as the voice of the people."

Share This Story