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Breaking News: Lane County Calls a Temporary Halt to Controversial Changes to Initiative Petition Process

The Lane County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 today, Aug. 30, to call a six-month halt on its efforts to change its initiative petition process, Commissioner Pete Sorenson tells EW

The iniative petition process allows the public to collect signatures and get measures on the ballots, such as efforts to ban aerial sprays of pesticides or genetically modified crops. 

Back in June, the Lane County Commission began to mill over giving itself  the authority to block any countywide ballot measures that it decided was not  “of county concern,” before they go to voters or the courts. The proposal was at the behest of conservative local political activist Dennis Morgan. Commissioners Jay Bozievich and Faye Stewart spoke of the effort to block public initiatives as cost saving.

In a media release, Sorenson, who was against the effort to block iniative petitons, writes that in response to his repeated requests to stop work on ordinances to change the initiative petition process, the board agreed today to cease work on the process. He says, “Although this is temporary, it looks like the board decided that this change right now isn’t going to be a good idea. To me, this has always been about — in basketball terms — changing the height of the basket in the middle of a basketball game.”

Ann Kneeland, attorney with Community Rights Lane County, which has been vigorously fighting the board's efforts to block the initiative petitions, noted previously that an ironic aspect of the proposed ordinance is that the county commission is targeting Community Rights initiatives that seek to create greater legal authority for citizens to protect themselves from corporate harms.

Sorenson continues, "I’ll be on the alert for any further proposals to interfere with the rights of Lane County residents to change their laws by initiative petition."

The media release notes that, "This is a rare win for Sorenson, a progressive, who is frequently at odds with the conservative board majority."

Update:

Kneeland tells EW:

I would like to commend the Lane County Commissioners for unanimously voting on the side of the people of Lane County instead of for corporate interests. There is more at issue here than the popularity, costs, or even constitutionality of individual initiatives. Rather, our rights to direct democracy and free speech are at stake, including our right to circulate petitions, engage in political discourse, and vote on proposed laws. No government official should have the power to obstruct these core democratic activities.

 I believe our community will remain vigilant to protect the People's initiative and referendum powers from any further assault from corporate interests.