Citizens’ Initiative Review Needs Legislative Funding

The Oregon legislature just started their short session on February 1. Senator Arnie Roblan, who sponsored the bill that put the Citizens’ Initiative Review in statute, is proposing that the legislature commit funds to ensure this uniquely Oregon innovation in democracy can be sustained. His OpEd appears below:

Oregon was one of the first states to adopt the initiative and referendum processes – a way for voters to decide on proposed laws or reject a bill passed by the Oregon Legislature. For more than a century, the initiative process has been a cherished part of Oregon’s political system.

In 2011, during the historic power-sharing arrangement in the evenly divided House of Representatives between Democrats and Republicans, the Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) process was established.  The CIR quickly became one of those unique bipartisan approaches that aims to make voters more informed and reflective during direct democratic elections.

A panel of 24 registered voters, based on their diverse geographic and political affiliations, age and other demographic factors would look hard into the policy issues raised by the measure. Each panel meets to hear arguments from advocates for and against the measure, its financial impacts on the state, and the various policy tradeoffs underlying the policy choice. In the end, panelists use a combination of consensus techniques to produce a statement that appears in the voter’s pamphlet with the best reasons to vote for or against the measure. 

Independent studies have shown that on average, Oregonians who cast ballots on CIR reviewed initiatives reported reading the citizens’ statement when deciding how to vote, and a significant majority of those found them somewhat or very helpful. Additionally, studies have shown that the statement produced by the CIR panel is accurate, clear and far more readable than official explanatory statements. This is because CIR panel members cut through partisan biases and clear the path for honest and fair facts. 

CIR is a valuable tool we can offer our citizens that ensures voters have timely and accurate information not tainted by the partisan interests.  It encourages more, and better-informed voters to help our political process as we move forward on access to fair, impartial, and non-partisan accountability to the initiative process.  Oregon has led the way nationally and even internationally with the CIR process. Our unique process is being adopted in other states and nations and many local government entities are also adopting review processes. 

During this short session, I sincerely hope that my colleagues will consider including funding for the CIR Commission, to ensure Oregon voters get honest and accurate information about the ballot measures they have to vote on. 

There was no CIR in 2018 in Oregon and if the legislature does not sustain this valuable process there will likely be none in 2020. 

Arnie Roblan represents Senate District 5 which covers Coos Bay to Lincoln County on the Oregon Coast.