Initiative to ban aerial spray denied by courts

On March 7, Judge Karsten Rasmussen of the Lane County Circuit Court upheld a determination of Lane County Clerk Cheryl Betschart that the Freedom from Aerial Spraying of Herbicides Bill of Rights Charter Amendment does not comply with a statutory separate-vote rule.

As a result, the initiative is being kept off of the May 2018 ballot in Lane County.

The Freedom from Aerial Spraying of Herbicides Bill of Rights would ban aerial spraying of herbicides in Lane County. Proponents of the inititative introduced the amendment as a protection for clean air and water, and public health. A similar measure banning aerial spraying was adopted by voters in Lincoln County last May.

The issue of a separate-vote requirement for charter amendment initiatives was brought forward by Stan Long, a timber industry supporter who sued Lane County in September 2016, contending that a review standard for charter amendment petitions must apply to the aerial spray ban initiative.

This came after the county had already approved the petition for circulation. Nearly 15,000 signatures were gathered to place the aerial spray ban question on the ballot.

“Lane County voters, and all Oregon voters, should be disheartened by this ruling,” said Katja Kohler Gause, Chief Petitioner, who added that “...The courts have defended the timber industry’s government-protected practice of aerial spraying poisons on the people, soil, air.”

Gause accused the courts of trampling Oregon voters’ right to introduce an initiative to vote on, and pass laws “...when those in office fail to protect us.”

Chief petitioners of the proposed charter amendment argued that the applicable state statute — enacted in 1983 — could not be interpreted to require a proposed charter amendment to comply with the separate-vote rule under a 1998 interpretation of the rule.

Rather, they claimed that, consistent with legal rules of statutory interpretation, a county clerk must apply the separate-vote rule under the applicable law of 1983, which reflects the will of the legislature at the time of the statute’s enactment.

Notably, the Lane County Clerk had previously determined that the proposed charter amendment at issue addressed a single subject.

“It is highly doubtful that the separate vote test should be applied at all,” said Ann Kneeland, attorney for the initiative’s Chief Petitioners, who plan to appeal the decision.

Along with Community Rights Lane County and initiative proponents, the Chief Petitioners will turn their efforts to asking the Lane County Board of Commissioners to refer the Freedom from Aerial Spraying Bill of Rights Ordinance and the Community Self-Government Ordinance to the November 2018 Lane County ballot.

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