Rep. Bill Kennemer working to reign in abuse of emergency clause

Rep Bill Kennemer

46% of bills used “emergency clause”, bypass the referendum process

Rep. Bill Kennemer

SALEM – Representative Bill Kennemer (R-Canby/Oregon City) has introduced House Joint Resolution 33, an amendment to the Oregon Constitution that would require legislation declaring an emergency to contain a statement explaining what emergency is being addressed.

“Oregonians expect and deserve transparency from the legislative process,” said Rep. Kennemer. “This proposal would ensure that any legislation declaring an emergency specifically states why that declaration is necessary, ultimately ensuring greater accountability from our elected officials.”

Under Oregon’s constitution, citizens have the right to refer any law passed by the Legislature to a public vote before the law takes effect. However, Oregon’s constitution also includes an “emergency clause” provision, which allows lawmakers to enact legislation that becomes effective immediately upon passage when an urgent problem is being addressed.

Unfortunately, the emergency clause has increasingly been attached to legislation that does not seek to solve an immediate problem or used as a tool to bypass the referendum process. According to analysis by Legislative Counsel, more than 46% of the bills the Legislative Assembly has considered this session have included an emergency clause.

“The Oregon Legislature has passed a number of controversial bills this session, including the low-carbon fuel standard and background checks for private gun transfers, that have included emergency clauses,” said Rep. Kennemer. “Unfortunately, in doing so, the Legislature has restricted Oregonians’ constitutional right to refer the bills we pass and compromised a critical piece of Oregon’s democratic process. This amendment would help ensure that use of the emergency clause is reserved solely for legitimate purposes.”

HJR 33 would require any legislation declaring an emergency to provide a justification statement explaining the circumstances necessitating immediate enactment. A court would then be allowed to independently review the justification statement to determine its legitimacy. Should the court find the emergency clause unjustified, the court could order the emergency clause provision to be removed.

Should HJR 33 receive approval from both the House and Senate, the amendment would then be referred to Oregon voters for final approval.

UPDATE 5/21/2015: The Daily Astorian: Not everything is an emergency (State Sen. Betsy Johnson)