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Legislator may be violating residency rule.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

East Lane County residents are without a state representative living in their House district - and Republican Jeff Kruse, their lawmaker who recently moved into a neighboring district, could be in violation of legislative residency requirements.

Kruse said he moved Oct. 31 from his Sutherlin apartment in House District 7 to a house on his farm in adjoining House District 1, which also is part of a Senate district Kruse wants to run for next year.

The move was necessary for Kruse to meet residency requirements to run for Senate District 1 in Southwestern Oregon - but it appears to put Kruse afoul of a voter-passed constitutional amendment that requires lawmakers to live within the districts they represent during their entire terms in office. By failing to maintain inhabitancy in House District 7 until his term expires in January 2005, Kruse could be subject to expulsion from the Legislature.

Kruse said Tuesday that he intended to continue to represent House District 7, which includes eastern Lane County and the northern and eastern portions of Douglas County, even though he now lives 200 yards outside the district's southern boundary. Previously, he lived an eighth of a mile within the district. He said he had thought about giving up the seat in light of the constitutional residency re- quirement, but decided against that - in part because he didn't want to shirk his responsibilities to the residents of House District 7 and because he thought the residency requirement was challengeable.

"I think it's open to probably multiple interpretations," Kruse said of the constitutional residency requirement for legislators. "From my perspective, there's enough vagueness in the law."

Kruse said he wanted to run for Senate District 1, currently held by Sen. Bill Fisher, R-Roseburg, because Fisher has indicated he won't seek re-election next year. State law requires that candidates live in a legislative district for at least one full year before the general election to be eligible for the ballot. According to the Douglas County Clerk's Office, Kruse updated his voter registration form on Nov. 5, showing his address at 174 Burkhart Rapids Lane, Roseburg - the same address he'd previously claimed as a representative from 1997-2001.

When legislative district boundaries were redrawn in 2001, Kruse's Roseburg farm and residency was part of House District 1, which was assigned to Rep. Wayne Kreiger, R-Gold Beach, to represent.

In response, Kruse established residency at an apartment in Sutherlin, just across the boundary in House District 7, so he could run for election to that district in 2002.

The residency requirement, established in 1995, was intended to fill in a gap in the state Constitution, which set residency standards for candidates running for the Legislature, but did not speak to where lawmakers should live while seeking appointment to a vacant seat or after they've joined the House or Senate.

The lawmakers who drafted the argument in the Voters' Pamphlet in support of the change wrote that the amendment, if adopted, "requires state Senators and Representatives to live in the district they represent during their terms of office. If they fail to maintain inhabitancy, they will be subject to expulsion from the legislature."

The Legislature's top legal adviser, Greg Chaimov, said that even if lawyers and the courts were to agree on whether Kruse had violated that residency requirement, the decision is not up to them.

"The sole judge of a member's qualification to serve is the chamber in which that person serves," he said.

Ramona Kenady, chief clerk of the House, called the Kruse residency issue "new territory to trek" since no member has ever openly established residency outside his or her district since the 1995 constitutional amendment was passed.

She said any actions regarding Kruse's residency can occur only when the House is in session; lawmakers voted last summer to hold a special session on tax reform in June, and they could convene earlier next year to deal with budget problems if the Measure 30 tax increase fails Feb. 3.

House Democratic Leader Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, said Kruse could resolve any controversy by resigning if it is determined that he was out of compliance with the residency requirement. But should Kruse stand by his plans to continue representing one district while campaigning in a different part of the state, "I think the House has an obligation to sustain the law and set an example for the state," the Democratic leader said.

Troy Nichols, chief of staff to House Republicans, said the majority caucus had no intention of blocking debate on the question for partisan reasons. "If the issue is raised by the Democrats during a special session, we'd have to consider the merits of their objection and go from there."

Kruse expressed doubt that anyone would question his legal qualifications to continue representing House District 7.

"I don't see where there's any benefit to anybody. I mean, if we come in to a special session, there are clearly bigger issues on the table," he said. "I guess the real issue is if the people of District 7 thought that somehow I had been elected under false pretenses or done an inappropriate job of representing them. "
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Title Annotation:Legislature; District 7 Rep. Jeff Kruse recently moved to neighboring District 1, where he wants to run for a Senate seat next year
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 10, 2003
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