Women's rights plan is first initiative, third measure on ballot

Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to specify women's rights as part of the Oregon Constitution.

The Oregon Elections Division has confirmed 118,388 signatures through sampling, more than the 116,284 required to qualify the proposed constitutional amendment for a statewide ballot. A total of 164,934 signatures were submitted, the bulk of them about 10 days ago.

The initial batch fell about 16,000 short, but 29,000 more signatures were submitted a week ago.

The Oregon version of the Equal Rights Amendment was converted into a ballot initiative after lawmakers failed to advance it during their 2013 session.

Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo of Portland was the lead sponsor.

A similar proposal failed at the ballot box in 1996 after concerns were raised about it pre-empting other rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon raised such concerns then, and said it would oppose the current measure.

A statement by Becky Straus, its legislative director, read in part:

"The fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Oregon Bill of Rights will be most secure if the rights of all individuals and classes of persons who are the targets of unjust discrimination -- past, present or future -- receive the same strong protections from our state Constitution.

"If we adopt instead a piecemeal approach to protecting the rights of targeted classes, the rights of those with the least political clout and financial resources -- and therefore the most vulnerable -- would be more likely to suffer under the shifting winds of public opinion in times of stress.

"Our greatest strength in the struggle to advance fundamental civil rights and civil liberties is our unity."

A proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to bar discrimination by gender was cleared by Congress in 1972, but it failed to win ratification by the required number of states when the deadline expired in 1982. Oregon ratified it in 1973 and 1977.

The Oregon Supreme Court has held that the state Constitution bars gender discrimination, but advocates say women's rights should be specified in the document.

Although it will be the first initiative to qualify, elections officials have already put two other measures on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The first, referred by the 2013 Legislature, would allow the creation of an endowment fund or sale of debt to provide student aid.

The second, which opponents petitioned to refer to the ballot, is a legislative measure to create a four-year driver's card for those who meet all requirements for a regular license except proof of legal presence in the United States.

Tursday is the deadline for filing signatures for initiatives. The secretary of state will have 30 days to verify signatures and assign measure numbers.

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