Improving Citizen Access to the Oregon Legislature

Are Oregon citizens able to engage with the legislature in a meaningful way? The flurry of bills and amendments can be overwhelming for a professional lobbyist, so it is easy to understand why a citizen or group of volunteer citizens want to throw up their hands.

Tracking a bill in the legislature would seem to be relatively easy with access to the internet. But, as many folks are finding out, it isn’t quite that easy. Once a hearing is scheduled for a bill, a person may have to commute hundreds of miles to Salem to testify. Written testimony can and should be provided on a bill, but actually being present seems to give more deference to an argument. Then, amendments often have been added to the bill that weren’t available on the web, and a citizen’s comments might no longer be pertinent. In fact, with cutoffs approaching, committee members often haven’t even seen amendments before they arrive at the hearing.

Many new citizen activist groups are recognizing that for them to be effective at the legislature, they must have someone at the Capitol on a daily basis monitoring activities. Even then, it is difficult to be effective. Small unofficial workgroups of lobbyists may be working on new language for bills that you may or may not be invited to participate in. This can result in amendments being introduced as “compromise language,” even though interested private citizens never saw the language.

The Oregon legislature could be more accessible to the average citizen. Here are few ideas that could make great strides in that direction:

• Establish video conference areas around the state for citizens to provide testimony. This is currently being done by the Redistricting Committee, so it is possible. Facilities with this technology already exist at most college facilities throughout the state, so the infrastructure need would be limited.

• Require all amendments to be posted electronically 24 hours before they can be considered in a work session, and the work session must open a public hearing for comments on those amendments.

• The number of bills a legislator can introduce should be further limited to three, as well as those introduced on behalf of agencies. However, this has to be well thought-out. The last thing that should be encouraged is large omnibus bills with very general relating clauses.

These changes won’t eliminate the power of professional lobbyists, but they would begin to create a more accessible process for citizens. As legislators contemplate rules by which to conduct business at the beginning of each session, they not only should consider how to make the session most productive for the body, but also how to make their process more conducive to citizen participation.


Karla Kay Edwards is Rural Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She has held positions of leadership in numerous organizations focusing on agricultural and rural industries and issues, including the Fresno (California) Farm Bureau, Washington Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in OR 76th Legislative Session, Oregon Government, Oregon House, Oregon Senate, Tea Party | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Joe

    Hard to imagine that these fools are so inept.
    They are truly out to lunch.
    I am saddened by their incompetence.

    • Conservatively Speaking

      Saddened, too, their meeting annually now enables the state governmentium body to double up the misrepresentation in flavor of their PAC’d full of it clients.

    • Conservatively Speaking

      Saddened, too, their meeting annually now enables the state governmentium body to double up the misrepresentation in flavor of their PAC’d full of it clients.

    • Conservatively Speaking

      Saddened, too, their meeting annually now enables the state governmentium body to double up the misrepresentation in flavor of their PAC’d full of it clients.

  • Yea I dont know about that last one. I agree that if that were the limit, we would just have huge big collections of unrelated changes.

  • Mmcconoughey

    Thank ypu, Kay Edwards, for your positive suggestions for improving citizen accessibility to the law making process. We all deserve more respect from our state legislature.

  • Joe

    Creeps.

  • Lacretia

    There needs to be a moratorium on new bills. A long moratorium. Period. All existing laws should be reviewed for elimination, along with all the un-voted on rules and regulations. That alone will keep them busy for a long time.

    They are to realize they are government servants and the public is the boss.

    No new laws can be passed without public voting. Every we have to vote on a new law, there should be fees charged against those who promoted and sponsored the law, and their names should be a matter of public record published in all available media.

    That should slow down the laws being created.

  • Joe

    This article is very much on point. I traveled to Salem to testify on a piece of legislation. I had been following the bill on the legislative webb site. There was no mention even up to the night before of any amendments. I arrived and gave my testimony only to find out afterward that they had already gutted the bill with amendments and backroom deals. This week I sent written testimony to that same committee and today listened to the hearing via the legislative webb site. I learned that if you are not there to testify in person you are wasting your time. They give no weight to written testimony from “Joe Citizen”. It takes numbers to get their attention. I have found they ignore e-mails and phone calls and even registered mail. For the record my attemps at contact have always been polite and professional. I would like to see them post the minutes and votes of the committee meetings on the legislative webb site, but they don’t seem to want to do that. I would also, very much like to see them post any amendments on the site prior to a vote. It seems that the Oregon legislative system is closed to the individual citizen. I shall continue to knock on their door!

    • JoeII

      The name should be JoeII

    • JoeII

      The name should be JoeII

  • Joe

    This article is very much on point. I traveled to Salem to testify on a piece of legislation. I had been following the bill on the legislative webb site. There was no mention even up to the night before of any amendments. I arrived and gave my testimony only to find out afterward that they had already gutted the bill with amendments and backroom deals. This week I sent written testimony to that same committee and today listened to the hearing via the legislative webb site. I learned that if you are not there to testify in person you are wasting your time. They give no weight to written testimony from “Joe Citizen”. It takes numbers to get their attention. I have found they ignore e-mails and phone calls and even registered mail. For the record my attemps at contact have always been polite and professional. I would like to see them post the minutes and votes of the committee meetings on the legislative webb site, but they don’t seem to want to do that. I would also, very much like to see them post any amendments on the site prior to a vote. It seems that the Oregon legislative system is closed to the individual citizen. I shall continue to knock on their door!

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