On March 7, a Lane County judge ruled that the proposed aerial herbicide spray ban will not appear on the ballot in the May election.
Lane County Circuit Court Judge Karsten Rasmussen said that the ballot initiative violated the “separate vote requirement” under Oregon law and therefore cannot appear on the ballot.
The decision came as a blow — though not a surprise — to the community groups who have been working for over a year to get this initiative to Lane County voters. The initiative, known as the Freedom from Aerial Spraying of Herbicides Bill of Rights Charter Amendment, has faced several roadblocks on its path to the ballot.
An earlier petition was thrown out in Oct. 2017 by the county for also failing to meet the separate vote requirement, forcing the activists to rewrite the initiative and reacquire the 11,500 signatures needed to qualify for the May election. In January, activists swarmed a public Board of County Commissioners meeting to implore the commissioners to refer the initiative to the ballot. The commissioners balked, however, and forwarded the initiative to the circuit court, where it was eventually dismissed, to the chagrin of community activists.
“Under the current system of law, we the people have little power to protect the health, safety and welfare of our communities and natural environment,” attorney Ann Kneeland, who represents Community Rights for Lane County, said in an editorial in the Register-Guard on March 28.
In his decision, Judge Rasmussen argued that the initiative would affect “at least a dozen” statutes in the Lane County charter, including law enforcement, land-use policies and financial compensation for those affected by aerial herbicide spraying.
According to the Oregon Constitution, the “separate vote requirement” — known as the “single-subject rule” in some states — requires any initiative or referendum submitted by popular petition to a state or local government to cover only one subject. While the rule is designed to ensure that any initiative is clearly focused on one issue, some argue that the requirement is being used to suppress the ability for local activist and community groups to get petitions on the ballot.
“That requirement is one that’s only before been applied to state constitutional amendments, never in my knowledge been applied to a local, county initiative,” Rob Dickinson, a member of the steering committee of Freedom from Aerial Herbicides, noted.
Despite being unable to get the initiative to the ballot in May, the community groups have yet to give up their fight to end aerial herbicide spraying. Dickinson conceded that the groups weren’t entirely optimistic about getting the initiative to the residents of the county in the May elections, especially after their first initiative was dismissed last year.
“We completed the signatures on Oct. 26 , we turned them in 15 days before that [deadline] and they told us that we had done our job,” Dickinson said. “So they had basically lost us our campaign time for May anyway.”
CRLC and FAHA intend to appeal Judge Rasmussen’s decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals, though it is unclear whether the case will be heard prior to the May 15 elections.