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Legal initiatives fall short of ballot.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - A pair of proposed initiatives aimed at trial lawyers failed to make the cut, state elections officials ruled Thursday.

Both proposed initiatives came up short of the signatures required to qualify for the November ballot, according to the Oregon Elections Division.

One would have capped the portion of damage awards that trial lawyers could claim as their fees for representing plaintiffs. The other would have allowed judges to sanction trial lawyers for bringing frivolous lawsuits to court.

The two initiatives were among five submitted in the run-up to the July 3 deadline for signatures. Five others already had been certified for the ballot.

Both of the rejected initiatives were sponsored by Russ Walker, director of Oregon operations for the national conservative group FreedomWorks. He blamed new, strict rules enacted by the 2007 Legislature for the failure to get enough valid signatures.

"Those rules have become much more strict, more petty," Walker said.

One of the rules requires initiative petitioners to provide payroll records to show they are not violating a ban against paying circulators on a per-signature basis. Both of Walker's initiative petitions were suspended from circulation after he failed to turn over such payroll records. Walker continued circulating petitions after the suspension order, but the resulting signatures - about 12,000 for each - weren't counted by the state Elections Division.

Scott Moore, spokesman for a group preparing to campaign against the measures, disputed Walker's contention that strict rules kept the measures off the ballot. He said the proposed initiative simply lacked support among Oregonians - which the insufficient number of signatures bears out.

"The reason is that this would have severely limited regular people's ability to take on large corporations and entities when they've been victimized by them," said Moore, whose organization was opposing the measures on behalf of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association.

It concluded that each of the two initiatives would have been about 10,000 signatures short of the 82,769 required to make the ballot.

The three initiatives still awaiting approval or rejection for the ballot would require merit pay for teachers, create an open primary election system and divert some profits from the Oregon lottery to crime-fighting.

The five initiatives already approved would create mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain theft, forgery and drug crimes; exempt property owners from obtaining building permits for improvements valued under $35,000; prohibit unions and others from using "public resource" funds for political purposes; prohibit teaching public school students in a language other than English for more than two years; and would allow Oregon taxpayers to make federal income taxes fully deductible on state returns.
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Title Annotation:Politics; The two proposed measures would have capped fees for trial lawyers and allowed sanctions for filing frivolous lawsuits
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 11, 2008
Words:441
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