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'Little guy' gets little input on annexation bill.

Byline: Jerry Ritter For The Register-Guard

Lane County Democrats tend to believe theirs is the party that stands up for "the little guy." Unfortunately, that sentiment is sometimes misplaced.

Consider Senate Bill 1573, sponsored by Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, in the current legislative session. It would revoke certain long-held voting rights in 32 Oregon communities with a combined population of nearly 600,000.

Citizens in these 32 cities (none in Lane County) have given themselves authority, via initiative, over discretionary annexations to their communities. They wanted a greater voice in how their communities grow and how that growth is paid for. Discretionary annexations are subject to a popular vote in these communities.

Corvallis citizens passed Oregon's first voter annexation ordinance in 1976. Our organization, Oregon Communities for a Voice in Annexations, was formed in 1996 to protect these local decisions.

Oregon's highest courts have repeatedly upheld the legality and legitimacy of voting on annexations. But development interests and most city governments despise these local ordinances and have been trying for 40 years to outlaw them. They do not want citizens to have this kind of authority. However, their efforts have consistently failed in the courts, the Legislature and at the ballot box. SB 1573 is their latest assault.

The core language for what became SB 1573 was drafted by the Oregon Homebuilders Association with support from Oregonians in Action in 2014. They convinced Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, to sponsor their draft in the 2015 Legislature. It was contained in two bills, SB 497 and SB 498. Edwards had, until that time, been a strong supporter of annexation voting rights. That was a factor in his initial election to the Oregon House of Representatives. Why he agreed to sponsor these bills is a mystery.

To his credit, Edwards, after declaring that he would not have sponsored these bills had they applied in his district, apparently had second thoughts. He did not allow them a hearing before the 2015 deadline. What happened next provides a sordid example of how things too often work in Salem.

Oregon Communities for a Voice in Annexations had written a bill, House Bill 2938, to stop cities from requiring annexation when providing a county service (e.g., building permits) as a proxy for the county. We had a strong legal basis for the proposal, and the bill was a slam-dunk in the House, passing by a 59-1 vote with only Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, objecting.

It then went to Beyer's Senate committee where Beyer, at the 11th hour and with no notice to us, allowed the homebuilders' and Oregonians in Action's language to be stuffed into our HB 2938. We had no choice but to try to kill our own legislation. But Beyer and his committee approved the stuffed bill. It was then sent to the Senate Rules Committee, which took no action on it before the session adjourned.

We knew the bill would resurface - and it has, as SB 1573. Despite our 20 years of experience and knowledge dealing with voter annexation, we were not invited to the informational meeting on the measure Beyer's committee held on Jan. 14. The originators provided one-sided testimony, some of it unsubstantiated.

When powerful special interests cannot get their plans turned into law through normal means, they are allowed to resort to underhanded measures such as "gut and stuff" for a "Plan B." Ordinary citizens are seldom granted this privilege. So much for standing up for the little guy. SB 1573 is a prime example of why people are so cynical about government.

We will continue the fight to preserve local control, and we will fight against those who would revoke long-established citizen rights. SB 1573 has also been saddled with a totally bogus "emergency clause" to prevent a referendum - another ubiquitous abuse of legislative power. We will be working hard to defeat this assault on the little guy, as we have had to do repeatedly in the past.

Jerry Ritter of Springfield ( ) is the secretary and legislative affairs representative for Oregon Communities for a Voice in Annexations.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Feb 3, 2016
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