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Oregon Referendum Title Has To Be Rewritten


The Oregon Attorney General’s office is going to have to change language in the health care funding vote scheduled for the January 2018 ballot.

Karen Escobar is a Medicaid recipient from The Dalles. She wants the referendum to pass because without medication, she says she's suicidal and can’t even boil water, because she forgets what she was doing, “The doctors prescribe medication, Medicaid pays for it. And I’m able to live on my own. And without that, I don’t know where I’d be,” she said.

Karen Escobar is a Medicaid recipient from The Dalles. She wants the referendum to pass because without medication, she says she’s suicidal and can’t even boil water, because she forgets what she was doing, “The doctors prescribe medication, Medicaid pays for it. And I’m able to live on my own. And without that, I don’t know where I’d be,” she said.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

The referendum gives Oregonians a chance to weigh in on the legislature’s effort to pay for hundreds of thousands of people to be covered by Medicaid.

But its wording is complex to say the least. This health care reporter had to read it three times before understanding a “no” vote would have stopped it and a “yes” vote would have put it into effect.

The referendum’s chief petitioner, Julie Parrish, appealed the ballot title, saying it’s too complex. She said it contained long, run-on sentences that obscure meaning, and that it referred to “temporary assessments” instead of “taxes.”

The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with Parrish on some points, for instance that the wording had the potential to mislead voters.

But it sided with the Attorney General on other points, finding it’s okay to call the ballot an assessment instead of a tax.

The wording will now go back to the Attorney General’s office for modification.

Patty Wentz, with the health care coalition trying to pass the referendum said, “Voter(s) have been well-served by this process.”

“This is a huge decision by the court today,” stated Representative Cedric Hayden (R-Cottage Grove). “Their direction clearly demonstrates why the legislature shouldn’t have hijacked the time-tested ballot title process which otherwise balances the powers between the three branches of government.”

“Now that we’re past the one opportunity for the court to weigh in, the real test will be whether or not AG [Ellen] Rosenblum will follow the law,” said Representative Julie Parrish (R-Tualatin/West Linn.)

“The court gave her direct and specific instructions, based on years of case law, for how to correctly and fairly modify the ballot title caption, Yes/No vote statements, and Measure Summary in accordance with that law. Failure to follow the court’s direction will not only call into question her integrity, it would be a direct affront to Oregonians who expect our elected attorney general to uphold the law.”

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