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Bill Adair
By Bill Adair August 13, 2014

Was an Oregon law giving driver cards to undocumented citizens crafted 'behind closed doors?'

With the general election less than three months away, a ballot measure that would overturn the Legislature’s vote to provide driver cards to those who can’t prove they are in the state legally is generating considerable heat.

Almost as soon as Gov. John Kitzhaber signed Senate Bill 833 on May 1, 2013, a group opposing the measure mapped plans to gather enough signatures to refer it to voters. Protect Oregon Driver Licenses’ effort succeeded, and state voters will decide on Ballot Measure 88 in November. A yes vote would allow the law, whose implementation was suspended by the referendum effort, to take effect.

The claim:

Group members remain unhappy with the process, saying they were denied chances to participate in a 15-member work group convened by the governor before the original legislation was drafted.

Among statements on Protect Oregon Driver Licenses’ website is this claim: Gov. John Kitzhaber formed a group to create SB 833 "behind closed doors without allowing any input from citizens who represent the public interest."

PolitiFact Oregon checked.

The analysis:

We called Jim Ludwick, communications director for Oregonians for Immigration Reform -- the parent group of Protect Oregon Driver Licenses. Although the claim was made more than a year ago in April 2013, Ludwick said the group stands by it.

He told us group members, hearing that the governor wanted a "special work force to draft legislation" to authorize driver cards, repeatedly asked the governor’s staff how they could take part.

"We wanted a place at the table," Ludwick said. "We felt we should have a right to debate the issue." Only later, he said, did he and others learn a work group had already been appointed.

"The whole thing was cooked and baked behind closed doors," Ludwick said. "We were strung along and excluded at every step."

Legislative records show that four Democrats and four Republicans served as the bill’s primary sponsors. We emailed their offices for their take.

Rep. Chris Harker, D-Beaverton, noted apparent confusion between the work group’s role and the actual drafting of the bill.

Kitzhaber convened the 15-member work group, Harker said, to make policy recommendations around an Oregon driver card. Those recommendations, he said, were combined with information provided by Driver and Motor Vehicles Services and a bipartisan group of legislators to "inform the drafting of Senate Bill 833."

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The bill itself sailed through through two "very well attended public hearings," Harker said. He added that it was significantly amended once and had "input from more than 20 legislators." Harker said that the first hearing, held April 11, 2013, drew "so many participants they had to open three overflow rooms; hardly what I would call ‘behind closed doors.’"

Members of Ludwick’s group, according to legislative records, were among those testifying.

Rep. Vic Gilliam, a Republican from Silverton, was even more vociferous.

"The unfounded protestations by this group and other similar groups has, for me, moved from disappointing to disgusting," he wrote in an email. "Claims that a bill moved through the Legislature, with committee and floor-sessions in both chambers, seems hardly to have been fashioned behind closed doors, without allowing any citizen input."

The office of another co-sponsor, state Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland, said opponents shouldn’t have been caught off-guard by the 2013 effort since Shields introduced "a very similar bill" the prior session, in 2011. That bill, SB 845, died in committee but not before a public hearing.

We then emailed the governor’s office, asking who participated in the work group and whether that process proceeded in accordance with Oregon’s public meetings law requirements.

Spokeswoman Rachel Wray provided the list of participants, who represented a variety of public and private interests -- four current and retired chiefs of police; members of four Latino-affairs and advocacy organizations; a labor union representative; dairy, nursery, restaurant and winegrower representatives; someone from Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon; and a member of the governor’s staff.

We consulted state statutes, which give the governor a green light to convene such groups, so long as they make only recommendations for his consideration.

The ruling:

The 2013 Oregon Legislature, in a bipartisan effort, approved a bill providing driver cards to those unable to prove they are in the country legally. After the governor signed the bill, a group opposing it quickly gathered enough signatures to refer SB 833 to the November ballot.

However, members of the group, Protect Oregon Driver Licenses, claim they were shut out of a 15-member work group that made recommendations for how the bill should be drafted, and that the effort was fashioned "behind closed doors without allowing any input from citizens who represent the public interest."

The work group, in accordance with Oregon public meeting law, met privately, giving some credence to the opponents’ claim of meeting "behind closed doors." While the work group did not include those who opposed the effort outright, it did include a wide spectrum of views, from chiefs of police to industries and individuals potentially affected by the bill.

In addition, the bill that ultimately passed, after two well-attended public sessions, went through at least one significant amendment and other tweaks. Dozens of people, including the opposition, testified before the bill’s eventual passage, making it hard to argue that, as an opposition spokesman asserted, everything was "cooked and baked behind closed doors."

The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

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Our Sources

Email, Rep. Chris Harker, D-Beaverton, Aug. 12, 2014.

Email, Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, Aug. 12, 2014.

Email, Rachel Wray, spokeswoman, Gov. John Kitzhaber, Aug. 12, 2014.

Email, Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson, D-Portland, Aug. 12, 2014.

Email, Erik Sorensen, communications director, CAUSA Oregon, Aug. 12, 2014.

Email, Amanda Hess, chief advisor, state Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland, Aug. 11, 2014.

Email, Rep. Vic Gilliam, R-Silverton, Aug. 11, 2014.

Telephone interview, Jim Ludwick, communications director, Oregonians for Immigration Reform, Aug. 11, 2014.

Website, Protect Oregon Driver Licenses.

Oregon Revised Statutes, 192.610(3).

Oregon Senate Bill 833.

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Was an Oregon law giving driver cards to undocumented citizens crafted 'behind closed doors?'

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