- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Supporters of a referendum granting driving privileges to people who can’t prove they’re legally in the United States are trying to rewrite the official summary that will appear on the ballots in November.

The Legislature’s language would make no reference to the change in requirements for drivers’ immigration status, saying only that the measure “establishes limited purpose, duration driver card for individuals who prove Oregon residency, meet driving requirements.”

In a rare move, Legislature’s action would throw out the certified ballot title written by the attorney general’s office, which says the measure “provides Oregon resident ‘driver card’ without requiring proof of legal presence in the United States.”

The House Rules Committee approved the measure Tuesday, setting up a vote Wednesday in the full House.

Critics are crying foul.

“I feel like they’re trying to stack the deck in their favor,” said Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer.

Lawmakers voted last year to grant restricted driver’s licenses to people who can’t prove they’re legally present in the United States, but Thatcher and other critics collected enough signatures to force a statewide vote.

One reference to drivers’ legal presence would appear in an official summary of the measure that appears in the voters’ pamphlet, but it would not appear on the ballot.

Supporters of the measure insist the change is needed because the attorney general’s ballot title doesn’t accurately reflect their intentions.

“The main concern was that making sure that Oregon voters who had to review what we’ve passed have an accurate idea of what we’ve passed,” said Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson, a Portland Democrat who sponsored the original bill and is advocating that the Legislature rewrite the description. She noted that the entire bill will be printed in the voters’ pamphlet, so people will be able to read everything the measure does before marking their ballot.

Last year’s Senate Bill 833 was supposed to take effect Jan. 1 before opponents forced the referendum. If voters approve, the state would be allowed to begin granting driving privileges to Oregon residents who can’t prove they’re legally present in the United States. Instead of an official driver’s license, they’d be issued a “driver card” that lasts half as long and can’t be used as identification for certain purposes, like passing airport security or entering a federal building.

It’s not uncommon for lawmakers to write the ballot title for measures that originate in the Legislature, said Jared Mason-Gere, a spokesman for House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.

According to a list of examples he provided, the Legislature got involved in the process in various ways for more than a dozen ballot measures in nearly every election cycle of the last decade. The last time the Legislature threw out a certified ballot title written by the attorney general, as it’s considering now, was in 2002.