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Entries in President Obama (2)

Tuesday
Aug072012

Oregonians to Decide Nine Measures

Oregon voters will decide in November on three tax measures, two measures to allow privately owned casinos, legalization of marijuana and a ban on commercial gillnet fishing.  They also will get a chance to give the governor additional powers in the event of a catastrophic disaster.

None of the measures, at least so far, has touched a public nerve. But that could change after Labor Day and voters begin to pay attention to who and what is on the ballot.

A tight, well-funded presidential race should ensure good voter turnout, even though Oregon is usually lumped in with fairly certain blue states voting for President Obama. Some of the ballot measures that qualified for the Oregon ballot also could stir the political pot.

Legalizing personal cultivation and use of marijuana and hemp (Measure 80) will draw attention from the expected quarters. Oregonians have voted on marijuana and medical marijuana measures before, but this measure has a new twist — a government role in regulating commercial marijuana cultivation and sale. Think of the commission that would be created as a mini-Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

The pair of measures to legalize privately owned casinos and a casino in a former greyhound racetrack in Wood Village will get plenty of airplay. The Lake Oswego-based casino advocates have invested a lot of money to get Measures 82 and 83 on the ballot and can be expected to fund a robust campaign in their support. Indian casino operators, who worry that a Portland-area casino will siphon off their clientele, will mount strong opposition. The Oregon Lottery and its retailers have a similar fear. Also expect voices of concern from those who worry about making casino gambling even more accessible in the metropolitan area. Oregon voters rejected a similar measure in 2010.

By comparison, the proposed ban on commercial gillnet fishing (Measure 81) seems like inside baseball. If passed, it would disallow use of gillnets to catch salmon by non-tribal persons on the Columbia River, with exceptions in the Lower Columbia River. Commercial fishing interests aren't well-heeled and may be unable to tell its story to voters. Then again, the same may be true for the sponsors of the measure.

Tax measures can be headliners on any ballot, but maybe not so much this time. Measure 79, pushed by Oregon's real estate sector, would ban any new real estate transfer taxes or fees. Measure 84 would phase out the state's inheritance tax on large estates and all taxes imposed on intra-family property transfers. Measure 85, sponsored by Our Oregon, would redirect corporate income tax kicker refunds to support K-12 education.

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Friday
Mar232012

Retired Law School Dean Reflects on Ruling

Symeon Symeonides pondered a moment, then said he had no idea how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of the Obama health care law, especially the individual mandate requiring every citizen to have health insurance. The high court will hear arguments in the case next week.

An internationally renowned constitutional law scholar, as well as one of Salem's best-kept secrets, Symeonides said it might be easier for states like Oregon to impose a health insurance buying mandate than for the federal government to do so. After all, he said, Massachusetts passed a mandate a few years ago and it appears to be working — though Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney would rather kick the issue to the background. 

Symeonides and I, along with Willamette Law School's development director, Mike Bennett, sat down for a drink last week to reflect on the Supreme Court case, which stands to be one of the most significant in years, perhaps even rivaling the abortion or desegregation decisions. It was only about a week before Symeonides headed off to Brussels, where he will be working for several months to advise the European Union on how to draft a new constitution.

If states found the political wherewithal to impose an individual mandate — and Symeonides, ever an astute observer of political winds, thinks that could be a tall order — it might be easier legally because it wouldn't run up against the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause. Under Article 1, the clause gives Congress "the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states, as well as Indian tribes."  The outcome of the court case rests, at least in part, on how current justices interpret the commerce clause and whether regulating commerce "among the several states" allows for an individual health insurance mandate.

The New York Times published an article last week, with the headline,  "At Heart of Health Law Clash, a 1942 Case of a Farmer's Wheat."

"If the Obama Administration persuades the Supreme Court to uphold its health care overhaul law, it will be in large part thanks to a 70-year-old precedent involving an Ohio farmer named Roscoe C. Filburn."

Seems that Mr. Filburn sued to overturn a 1938 law that told him how much wheat he could grow on his property and imposed a penalty on him if he grew too much. The Court ruled against Mr. Filburn, and that ruling serves as the pivot for what the justices will begin considering next week. The Times says interpretations of the Filburn case may form the basis for decisions by the two current-day justices who are considered the swing votes in this case, Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia.

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