Lawmakers march toward adjournment


As they continued their drive to adjourn, Oregon lawmakers on Sunday endorsed bills to place tougher ethics regulations on public officials and more controls on Oregon's initiative and referendum system.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Friday, although lawmakers from both parties were optimistic that it could happen by midweek.

Working through the weekend, lawmakers acted on two ethics bills that they hope will help restore some of the Legislature's credibility following disclosures last year that a group of lawmakers failed to report lobbyist-paid trips to Hawaii and other places.

The Senate on Sunday voted to endorse a House bill that increases the size of the state ethics commission's staff to permit more investigations and provide more ethics training for public employees.

The bill returns to the House for action on amendments.

Most of the controversy has focused on a Senate-passed bill that includes a $50 limit on gifts and meals public officials can accept from a lobbyist.

The measure also boost fines for ethics violations; creates an independent funding source for the ethics commission and requires more frequent spending reports by lobbyists.

Despite concerns by some lawmakers that the bill could harm their ability to meet with people who have a legitimate interest in state affairs, the House Rules Committee on Sunday passed out an amended version that now goes to the House floor.

The bill clamping tighter restrictions on the initiative system was approved Sunday by the Senate after backers said big money special interests' undue influence over Oregon's initiative and referendum system has resulted in fraud and abuse.

The bill, backed by Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and others, would require paid signature-gatherers to register and complete training.

People convicted of forgery, fraud or identity theft within the past five years could not become petition circulators.

Further, the bill would require chief petitioners to maintain payroll records for state review to make sure they are not violating the state's ban on the "bounty" system of paying petition carriers by the signature.

The measure returns to the House for action on Senate amendments.

The Senate also approved a ballot title for the rewrite of Oregon's Measure 37 property compensation law that will be submitted to voters this November.

The Legislature earlier approved a separate referral measure that would sharply restrict rural development that's now allowed under the 2002 property compensation law.

The measure containing the ballot title was approved despite complaints from Republicans who said the wording designed to persuade voters to approve it.

The House now will consider the proposed ballot title, which reads: "Modifies Measure 37; clarifies right to build homes; limits large developments; protects farms, forests, groundwater."

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