17 April 2018

Committee action, Apr. 17: HB 760, HB 649

HB 760 by Rep. Jay Morris would require information to be provided to legislators on request. He told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that the bill would improve legislative access to executive branch information by allowing legislators to have quickly this, in an understandable fashion.

Chairman Mike Danahay asked whether this might become disruptive. Morris said better to have too much information and to revisit the law if changes needed. He also had adopted an amendment to protect individual data.

Rep. Rob Shadoin pointed out that the bill allowed many more people than legislators to access this information, but Morris said it would have to come at a legislator’s discretion. Regardless, this could cause a lot of work, he argued. Morris said it was necessary because the executive branch sometimes might not be entirely forthcoming given conflictual interests.

Rep. Sam Jenkins said the legislature can compel testimony. But Morris noted that this testimony often lacked details or that testifiers said they did not have the information on hand. Jenkins didn’t like the idea that a legislator could ask bureaucrats to hand over information on demand without checking with superiors.

Rep. Lance Harris applauded to bill, noting the difficulty in getting specific information from agencies. He didn’t think legislators would just show up and make demands.

Rep. Gary Carter cast aspersions on the bill’s motives, although claiming he didn’t extend that to Morris, implying it criticized the current governor of his party that wasn’t Morris’. Morris said more knowledge always is good. Carter questioned how the bill affected deliberative aspects; Morris didn’t think it would affect that, but Carter thought it too broad. In response, Morris said he would be open to amendments that would not restrict unduly the purpose of the bill.

At that point, Morris asked for voluntary deferment to work on that, which was granted without objection.

HB 649 by Rep. Randal Gaines would register people to vote automatically at driver’s license locations, rather than just give the opportunity. He told the committee it would occur unless the non-registered voter opted out and said 10 states have put such a measure into law over the past three years. This, he alleged, would have more people voting.

A witness noted that in Oregon turnout went up after passage of this law, although he didn’t mention whether those people would have registered and voted anyway, and that most did not choose a party affiliation. Some states went further and did this in all offices where federal law required the offer to register.

Danahay wondered about the process, finding it nebulous. Supporters said amendments could make it more specific.

Representatives of the Secretary of State pointed out numerous problems with the bill conflicting with the election code. Non-citizens could be registered and registration would be delayed, to the point of disenfranchisement. They also pointed out proof of increased turnout is contaminated by the election calendar. The bill also would trigger some small additional costs.

Gaines closed by saying citizenship has to be resolved in any event. Nonvoters disproportionately comprise youngest people, which he said this could capture them and make them chronic voters. He said issues of timing could be worked out.

Jenkins moved for passage, but Shadoin objected. With a bare quorum, it failed 3-4 with all black Democrats present voting for it and all Republicans present plus Danahay voting against. He voted, without objection, for involuntary deferment.

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