On November 3, all eyes were on the presidential election. And with President Trump losing the White House, it was a very consequential race. However, Portlanders also voted on over ten ballot measures. Four local taxes were approved. Measure 26-217 will set up a police oversight board. And Oregon moved to legalize and decriminalize drugs. Below are summaries of the measures, explanations of the reasoning behind them, and a description of what the effects will be.
Several local tax measures were passed on November 3: a Portland Public Schools (PPS) bond, a library bond, a parks levy, and a tax increase to provide tuition-free preschool. The PPS bond measure keeps the existing property tax that voters approved in 2017 when they passed the previous PPS bond. The money will be used to fund the renovation and replacement of schools like Benson and Jefferson, as well as help with other projects. The measure passed with 74 percent of the vote.
The library bond was also popular, and received 59 percent of the vote. It will be paid for by increasing property taxes slightly. The estimated 387 million dollars will go towards renovating libraries and making library internet faster, among other things.
The parks levy (Measure 26-213) passed with 63 percent voting ‘yes’. The money raised by increasing property taxes slightly will go towards maintaining parks and taking care of natural areas in Portland.
A measure to provide universal preschool passed on Election Day, getting 64 percent of the vote. It will provide tuition-free preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds in Multnomah County, paid for by an increase in income taxes in some tax brackets. High childcare costs are a strain for many families, and quality often has to be sacrificed for affordability. This measure aims to help. It also raises the pay of preschool teachers to that of kindergarten teachers, which is often twice as much. This progressive measure is trying to change the way preschool functions in Multnomah County, to increase quality and affordability for all.
On the state level, Measure 108 passed, raising the tax on cigarettes and creating a tax on e-cigarettes. The revenue will go to fund health services in Oregon.
Police Oversight Board
Measure 26-217 amends the city charter to set up a new police oversight board with more power than the existing one. When the votes were counted, the bill received 81 percent of the vote, giving it an obvious popular mandate. This isn’t surprising, as the desire to increase police accountability is high right now.
The new police oversight board will be made up of Portlanders appointed by the city council. The measure says it will get five percent of the Portland Police Bureau’s budget; for reference, five percent of this year’s budget is about 11.5 million dollars, a large amount of money. It will have the power to investigate officer misconduct and complaints against law enforcement officers by power of subpoena and compelling documents. And at the end of an investigation, the board will have the power to take disciplinary action, including termination. This will increase the power of the board; the current police oversight board, called the Independent Police Review, cannot take disciplinary action against officers. The board will also be able to compel officers to participate in investigations and answer all questions.
Jo Ann Hardesty, an influential member of the Portland City Council, has been a large proponent of the measure. She and other supporters hope that even though the new system is untested, it will be successful and increase police accountability.
Drug Decriminalization and Legalization
Measure 110 decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of drugs. The basis of this measure is the idea that treatment is a better response to drug use than punishment. The text of the measure says, “A health-based approach to addiction and overdose is more effective, humane, and cost-effective than criminal punishments.”
This measure decriminalizes the non-commercial possession of several drugs, and establishes new treatment options that are accessible to the community regardless of financial situation. Possession of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA, LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), methadone, and oxycodone in small amounts will be decriminalized. Instead of harsher measures, the maximum punishment will be a 100 dollar fine. And by doing a health assessment with an addiction treatment professional, people can get out of the fine entirely.
Additionally, Measure 110 sets up more addiction treatment services. This is sorely needed as Oregon ranks among the worst in the nation in terms of access to drug treatment. This money comes out of the existing tax on marijuana. In future years, proponents of the bill expect that incarceration will go down as a result of the measure, and the money saved from incarceration will go towards funding recovery services.
Oregon is the first state in the nation to decriminalize these drugs. It is a bold step to reduce incarceration and focus on support instead of punishment in the case of addiction.
In addition to widespread drug decriminalization, the substance found in ‘magic mushrooms’ was approved for controlled use in certain settings. This substance, called psilocybin, is said to have therapeutic effects, and will now be legal in licensed facilities. It is said to help those struggling with depression and anxiety. Voters narrowly approved this measure, with 56 percent voting ‘yes’.
While it doesn’t fit in any of the previous categories, another statewide measure that passed was Measure 107, which amends the state constitution to let state and local governments limit campaign contributions. Currently, no limits on campaign contributions are allowed in Oregon. This won in a landslide, with 78 percent of a vote, showing that people are eager for campaign finance reform.
From a new police oversight board, to universal preschool, to decriminalizing drugs, ballot measures from this election will have noticeable effects. They all represent high hopes: the hope of preschool for all, of police accountability, and of reduced incarceration. As time goes on, we will see whether they have their intended effects. Either way, the state of Oregon, Multnomah County, and Portland are showing that they are willing to try new things to solve problems in the community.