Secretary of State Acknowledges Ambiguity in Measure 113 Amendment and Asks DOJ for Clarification

Language inserted in the Oregon Constitution about when a lawmaker is disqualified after 10 absences is unclear.

EMPTY: Oregon Senate chambers. (Justin Katigbak)

The Oregon Secretary of State’s Office has asked the Oregon Department of Justice for a legal interpretation of new language inserted in the Oregon Constitution after the passage of Measure 113 in 2022.

“We are seeking a legal opinion from the DOJ to clarify in which election the qualification issue should be enforced,” says Ben Morris, a spokesman for acting Secretary of State Cheryl Myers. “We’ll follow their advice in our role as the filing officer for statewide elections.”

Progressive groups proposed Measure 113 to end the practice of lawmakers walking out of the Capitol to block legislation. Republican senators are currently boycotting floor proceedings and have repeatedly walked out in recent years, but it’s a tactic both parties have used.

Although Democrats hold majorities in both legislative chambers, Republicans can block the passage of legislation by denying them a quorum (the minimum number of lawmakers who must be present to carry out official business). In 45 states, a simple majority of members constitutes a quorum, but the number in Oregon is two-thirds. Senate Democrats hold 17 of 30 seats this session, for example, so they all must be present, along with at least three non-Democrats, to approve bills on the Senate floor.

As WW has reported, rather than seeking to lower the threshold for a quorum to a simple majority, the proponents of Measure 113 chose a more convoluted path due to polling considerations. They decided that any member who racks up 10 unexcused absences should forfeit the right to hold his or her seat in the future—but the language inserted in the constitution is not clear about when that exclusion should occur: in the session immediately following the expiration of their terms, or one after that.

(Oregon Capital Insider published a rundown of when current GOP senators’ terms end.)

Lawyers that WW consulted disagree on how the language inserted in the constitution might be interpreted. Morris says Myers and state elections officials agree the issue is unsettled.

“The secretary of state’s office believes Measure 113 is a qualification issue,” Morris says. “If a candidate is not eligible to hold office, the courts have interpreted election statutes to mean that the filing officer can’t allow them on the ballot.”

“However, there is an open question on the timing of Measure 113,” Morris adds.

Meanwhile, as the Republican senators remain out, the session is grinding toward its scheduled June 25 conclusion with the House working through Senate-passed bills and finishing its own legislation, all of which will die if the Republicans do not return.

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