Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Help Write Oregon Laws With Crowdsourced Lawmaking

I got this amazing email from the Oregon secretary of State, Dennis Richardson. He came up with some wonderful ideas to make the Oregon government more transparent and accountable to "we the people". Ideas that "we the people" on both sides of the isle and even those like me who are unaffiliated with a "side" will like. In fact, I liked his ideas so much (things I have thought should be done in the past), that I am listing them here for you. If you are an Oregonian, he wants your feedback and any additional ideas you have to make Oregon more functional, transparent and accountable. I have corresponded with him in the past and he really does want to hear from you and he responds. I have had to reformat his data to put it on this blog and relink all his draft concepts, so if a link is bad or incorrect, blame me, not him. If you are not an Oregonian, perhaps you want your secretary of state to work on similar ideas and you can send this list to your states secretary.

Help Write Oregon Laws
Oregon’s laws affect you, and they should be written with your input. This is an opportunity for you to participate in crowdsourced lawmaking.

As Oregon’s Secretary of State, I work for you. That is why I’m asking for your input as my team drafts law improvement ideas for the 2019 legislative session. We haven’t even discussed most of these concepts with legislators yet, so you are seeing this list first. 

My mission is to increase transparency, accountability, and integrity in the four focus areas I oversee: Elections, Audits, Corporations (business registration/assistance), and Archives (public records and administrative rules). Each of the concepts below is intended to improve one of these areas.

All of these concepts are works in progress, and there is still much more drafting to be done. As you consider them, please keep in mind that there are potentially some things we’ve overlooked, so please let us know of any issues you may notice. We may choose not to move forward on some of these concepts, but I believe they are all worthy of serious consideration.

Will you help us make these concepts better? Please send your thoughts or suggestions to my Governmental & Legal Affairs Director, Steve Elzinga, at stephen.elzinga@oregon.gov by September 25. 

This is democracy in action. Embrace your inner policy wonk, and let’s dive into this together!

Transparency and Accountability Concepts
Financial Transparency
Oregonians deserve to know how state government spends their hard-earned tax dollars. Full transparency is needed to ensure every agency is accountable while restoring public trust in state government. Years ago, the state launched the Oregon Transparency Website and began posting selected financial information online. Although a good first step, more transparency is needed.

Under the current process, expenditure reports for state agencies are out-of-date, since they are belatedly updated only once a year. Furthermore, non-payroll data does not include the payment date, agency division, budget sub-category, invoice description, vendor city, or reference document numbers. Payroll data does include annual salaries, but omits the many associated monthly payments for overtime, special pay, benefits, retirement, etc. that make up the true cost for each employee. Missing details inhibit transparency about when or where agencies are actually spending money.

For over a year, the Secretary of State’s office has posted significantly more financial details and updated monthly expenditure reports with data from the Department of Administrative Services system used by most agencies. This draft concept would require the Oregon Transparency Website to report similar available financial data for all state agencies.

Audit Accountability
The audit process is critical for identifying needed improvements for state agencies. However, key aspects of the current audit process are not currently codified. This draft concept would ensure that audits include specific recommendations and that agencies specify whether they agree or disagree with those recommendations. This bill would require agencies to report on the implementation status of agreed-to recommendations, and it would require the Audits team to brief appropriate legislative committees on findings.

Audit Whistleblower Protections
Whistleblowers are key to exposing important information about ongoing problems in state agencies. In order to increase transparency and accountability in Oregon government, whistleblowers should be encouraged to share information with auditors by keeping whistleblower reports confidential. Similar to confidential press sources, the prospect of retaliation makes many whistleblowers hesitant to come forward if their identity will be known to their managers, co-workers, and others. 

We consolidated several possible solutions into a draft concept to protect the identity of whistleblowers who request to remain confidential when talking with auditors. Also, it would allow the Director of the Division of Audits, with written approval from the Secretary of State and subject to review by an independent entity, to keep specific information confidential if necessary to protect the identity of a whistleblower. Protecting whistleblowers will provide more overall transparency to the public because information that would not otherwise come out will now be available.

State Email Records Access
With the increased availability of auto-delete features in private email services, it is critical to ensure that state public records are properly retained and available. Use of private email accounts for state business by disgraced former Governor John Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes made it difficult to obtain these public records. This draft concept seeks to prevent state officials and employees from using private email to conduct state business, unless all private emails concerning state business are promptly forwarded to a state account.

Agency Public Records Response Accountability
We are working with the Public Records Advocate on a draft concept that would require state agencies to report certain statistics relating to their response to public records requests. This would be similar to the requirements in the federal Freedom of Information Act and would help hold agencies accountable for how long they take to respond to requests for public records.

Public Records Advisory Council Fixes
We are working with the Public Records Advocate on a draft concept that would make the Public Records Advisory Council permanent to continue the work they are doing on public records reform.

Helping Small Business Concepts
Electronic Notice and Tribal Economic Development
Almost every business in Oregon, both small and large, interact with Oregon’s business registration system. The system is one of the best in the nation, but there is still room for the two improvements in this draft concept.

First, it will provide a more user-friendly experience for Oregon small business owners and nonprofits, while reducing the approximately $400,000 we spend each biennium to mail out over 700,000 notifications. We envision this as being similar to how most utility, banking, and other private sector businesses allow customers to choose to receive email notifications. Specifically, we would like to email our annual notifications and allow business owners and nonprofits to just click on a link in the email to take care of their annual report obligations online. At the same time, we recognize that some business owners will likely want to continue using paper notices and forms, so we will continue to make both options available.

Second, it will allow Oregon businesses owned by tribes or enrolled tribal members to register in a manner that respects tribal sovereignty while receiving the same rate as other Oregon businesses. This will help promote new tribal businesses and enhance economic development.

Red Tape Reduction
We need to reduce the number of unnecessary regulations and rules in Oregon, especially those that hurt Oregon’s small businesses. We’ve launched a website with key facts about Oregon red tape. For example, did you know that Oregon’s Administrative Rules contain over 14.8 million words, which would take the average person 821 hours to read? Also, Oregon can look to the model set by progressive British Columbia, Canada. Their focused effort on reducing unnecessary regulation resulted in over 40% reduction in their regulatory burden since 2001.

As an incremental step toward reducing red tape, this draft concept would require administrative rules be reviewed every five years and that reviews must examine whether a rule is currently the least restrictive alternative to achieving the rule’s purpose. The goal of this bill is more efficient regulation, not deregulation, to help Oregon small businesses thrive.

Elections Reform Concepts
2020 Primary Date Change
Currently, only a handful of states vote for president after Oregon’s May primary. Moving our primary earlier could elevate Oregon’s priorities in the national discussion, give Oregonians more access to presidential candidates, and increase turnout. This draft concept would move the 2020 Primary Election to March instead of May. All contests would be moved, as well as connected deadlines (e.g. candidate filing) to avoid having them fall during the winter holiday. The Secretary of State would have the ability to move the date of the primary (and adjust connected deadlines) in order to coordinate a regional primary with other west coast states.

Nonaffiliated Primary
Although nearly one-third of Oregon voters are not affiliated with a political party, these nonaffiliated voters often feel left out of Oregon’s primary elections. In order to increase voter engagement, this draft concept would create a nonaffiliated primary that allows nonaffiliated voters to have ballot access and empowers nonaffiliated voters to have a larger voice in the primary. Nonaffiliated candidates could file for office like major party candidates, and nonaffiliated voters would have the opportunity to nominate one of the nonaffiliated candidates to appear on the general election ballot. To minimize costs, ballots will include only contests where at least one candidate filed, major/minor party candidates not eligible for write-in votes, and write-in candidates must file a declaration of candidacy with the county elections officer by 8pm on election night for their votes to be tabulated. There will be state reimbursement for county elections costs due to this change.

Voter Choices and Party Equity
Oregon laws impacting political parties currently are written in ways that benefit long-established major parties at the expense of smaller parties. The goal of this draft concept is to help level the playing field between Oregon political parties in order to promote equity and encourage voter choice. 

We are currently considering whether the following provisions would achieve these goals:
•State-funded primaries for minor parties that choose to opt-in for some or all of their races. To minimize costs, ballots will include only races where at least one candidate filed, parties may adopt rules setting minimum thresholds of support to win their nomination by write-in, and write-in candidates must file a declaration of candidacy with the county elections officer by 8pm on election night for their votes to be tabulated. There will be state reimbursement for county elections costs due to this change.

•Smaller parties are at risk of losing their party status as a side effect of the complex interaction between political party laws and the fact that most new Motor Voter registrants are nonaffiliated. One option to address this is to change party maintenance threshold requirements to a percentage of voters registered with a party, instead of a percentage of all voters.

•Another idea under consideration is to allow all political parties the option of adopting party rules allowing candidates to run for their nomination who are not members of the party or who have been members of the party for shorter periods of time than the current 180-day minimum.

•Make other conforming changes to align rights of major and minor parties for vacancy nominations, special elections, presidential electors, etc.

Write-In Efficiency
County elections officials work hard every election to count all the votes we cast. One of the most time-consuming (and thus costly) parts of their job is tallying write-in votes. There are write-in votes for many serious candidates, as well as for Mickey Mouse, Darth Vader, None, and many more. We can ensure that serious write-in candidates can still easily run for office while also reducing the cost of counting non-serious votes, and having final write-in vote totals faster. The draft concept would enable county elections officials to count write-in votes only for candidates who file a short form by the end of voting—8pm on Election Day. This would also save elections officials the cost of mailing confirmation forms to write-in winners, since they will have already confirmed their desire to accept the office if they win.

Campaign Finance Transparency for Ballot Measures
Current law requires contemporaneous campaign finance reporting by those who support or oppose a petition drive only if they are the chief petitioners. After a petition is certified to the ballot, other groups must begin reporting, including with initial assets. This massive loophole allows unreported spending during the summer before the election and allows zero reporting if a petition does not qualify for the ballot. This draft concept closes this anti-transparency loophole.

Miscellaneous Fixes
Each session, the Elections Division submits a list of needed fixes and updates to Oregon’s election laws. The current version of this draft concept includes numerous improvements: protect the right of voters to receive a ballot even if they vote infrequently; allow military and overseas voters to register electronically; campaign finance transparency for ballot measures; remove unconstitutional gender discrimination; remove inefficiencies and ambiguities from the voter list process; protect a period for public comment on explanatory statements; repeal several unconstitutional laws the inhibit free speech and violate the one-person-one-vote standard; change party maintenance thresholds to account for changes from Motor Voter; give political parties more freedom in choosing their own nominees; and align rules for major and minor parties. There were several other elections concepts that we considered adding to this bill or drafting as standalone bills, but we decided to narrow our focus to just these concepts for this session.

Final Thoughts
I know that this was a particularly lengthy newsletter, so thank you for reading all the way to the end. Although it is a bit wonky, I believe that you should be involved in crafting the laws that affect you. My team and I are looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
Do you have an idea beyond the above concepts? I’d also very much like to hear your ideas on other ways to increase transparency, accountability, and integrity in the four focus areas I oversee: Elections, Audits, Corporations (business registration/assistance), and Archives (public records and administrative rules). Please send your ideas to my Governmental & Legal Affairs Director, Steve Elzinga, at stephen.elzinga@oregon.gov by September 25.
Together, we are making Oregon a better place to live, work, and thrive. Thank you for your assistance and involvement.
Secretary Richardson Signature