SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Come next year, Oregon voters could be deciding whether to legalize marijuana or limit the ability of public-employee unions to collect political contributions.
Those are just two of the nearly two-dozen ideas proposed so far for the 2012 ballot. Citizen groups are collecting the signatures necessary — up to 116,000 of them, in some cases — to bring the ideas before Oregon voters.
So far, none of the proposals has turned in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but proponents have plenty of time. The deadline is July 6.
The marijuana proposal would make it legal for adults to grow and use marijuana without a medical card and to purchase it from state-licensed stores. Patients with debilitating conditions would still be able to get a medical marijuana card for tax-free access to the drug. Others would pay taxes earmarked for the state General Fund as well as drug treatment programs and research into other potential uses for marijuana plants, like biofuels.
"The prohibition of marijuana is based on lies and we intend to show that in our campaign," said Paul Stanford, a longtime Portland marijuana activist.
Stanford's proposed ballot measure is a bolder effort than last year's failed initiative to sell medical marijuana through state-licensed dispensaries. Stanford said critics of last year's initiative, which was rejected with 56 percent of the vote, suggested legalization of marijuana would be a better debate, "so that's what we're going to do."
Stanford's group has turned in about nearly 28,000 signatures so far, about a third of the total they'll need, according to data from the secretary of state's office.
Rep. Andy Olson, a retired State Police officer who is now a Republican state lawmaker from Albany, said the measure would bring "the doors wide open on the use of marijuana."
"I don't think that this is the avenue that we want to go down in this state, nor in this country," Olson said.
Another measure would prohibit government agencies from collecting union political contributions through payroll deductions. Proponents say the government shouldn't be collecting money that's used for political purposes.
"If they want to be part of the union that's fantastic," said Jess Messner, a Redmond insurance agent and conservative activist who is sponsoring the initiative. "But we're not going to subsidize the collection of their dues."
The unions are fighting back, saying the measure is an unfair attack on workers and an attempt to silence their political voice. They say government workers should be entitled to the same payroll deductions that employees of any other employer can have, and they point out that political contributions are optional.
Voters in Oregon rejected similar proposals in 1998, 2000 and 2008, in some cases by narrow margins. Unions here are likening the latest attempt to successful efforts in Wisconsin and Ohio to strip public employee unions of some of their powers.
"It was an unfair attack on working people then, and it still is," said Scott Moore, spokesman for Our Oregon, a liberal interest group. I think the difference now is that this is really is part of a nationwide attack on middle class families and public employees."
One proposed initiative, sponsored by the Oregon Association of Realtors, would prohibit transfer taxes on real estate. Others would eliminate inheritance and estate taxes. There's an attempt to reverse a voter-approved ban on using hounds to hunt cougars and bears. A similar proposal died this year in the state Senate.
A group of activists is collecting signatures for a vote on creating an independent commission of retired judges to draw new congressional and legislative districts every 10 years, removing the process from the Legislature. The concept has long been sought by Republicans, who feel Democratic majorities in the Legislature have helped the party draw boundaries that benefit their candidates.
Initiative sponsors have until four months before Election Day to submit enough valid petition signatures. Citizen initiatives that change the state constitution need 116,284 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot. Proposed changes to state law require 87,213 signatures.
Aside from the initiatives proposed by citizens, the state Legislature has referred two measures to the 2012 ballot.
One would update the state constitution to say what most probably thought it already said: That the state is organized into three branches of government. Oregon's governing document currently refers to the executive, legislative and judicial "departments," and it has a few other spelling and grammatical errors that would be corrected.
The other measure referred by the Legislature would create emergency powers for the governor and the Legislature if there's a major catastrophe like a terrorist attack or natural disaster. It would, for a limited time, allow the governor to shift money between state agencies and allow the Legislature to meet away from the Capitol if they couldn't get to Salem. Proponents said the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan this year highlighted the need to help state leaders react to a similar disaster here.
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Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.