Should Polk County be rated R?

Constitution Party wants minors to get permission before getting county services

POLK COUNTY -- It may seem like an innocent youth lunch in the park.

But if that lunch has ties to a county program, everyone attending should have a permission slip.

That's the view of the Oregon Constitution Party, members of which have introduced an initiative petition in seven counties.

Party members want to shut off all public services to children who can't prove their parents approve.

Dennis Jackson of Independence and Mary Walker of Dallas introduced the petition in Polk County. "We want parents to decide what is or isn't appropriate," Jackson said.

If the initiative becomes law, parents would be making a lot of decisions. "It could be broadly construed to cover anything the county does," Jackson said.

The ballot title refers to "local public services, including health, education and counseling." Children might use those public services riding along a county road. Or walking in a county park.

Or calling the sheriff's office.

Jackson said children could still discuss a crime with sheriff's officials. But his petition makes no exception for criminal matters.

County employees can only step in when a child is in danger of death or a serious physical injury.

Oregon Constitution Party Chair Bob Ekstrom couldn't say for sure when the law he supports should be followed. Given a hypothetical case of a parent molesting his or her child, Ekstrom said the child should go get local public services.

Under the initiative, however, the child would need to get permission from his or her molesting parent.

"What a joke," Ekstrom said. "A health provider is legally required to report any indication of crime to a law enforcement body."

Polk County provides health services. It also provides law enforcement. Ekstrom couldn't say how a child might make an appointment with those county departments without breaking the law.

Developing and enforcing that law would fall to county officials if voters approve the initiative. "They leave it vague and it's up to us to work out the details," said County Administrator Greg Hansen.

The initiative's supporters have an uphill battle to make it on this November's ballot. They need to turn in 1,241 signatures by Aug. 7.

Even before the signature drives begin, the initiative faces legal challenges. On July 15, the American Civil Liberties Union contested the way Polk County District Attorney John Fisher wrote up the ballot title. A ballot title is a short description of the proposed measure.

And the ACLU contends it would violate the state's "single subject rule" -- that initiatives deal with only one issue at a time.

The ballot title Fisher drafted -- and the Itemizer-Observer published July 10 -- is unclear, said ACLU of Oregon Executive Director David Fidanque. "It doesn't make clear that this measure requires the county to obtain permission before providing any service at all," he said, "and that it would be mandatory."

A Polk County Circuit Court judge will have the final say on those matters.

Local initiatives don't come up too often in Polk County, said County Clerk Linda Dawson. She can't remember one making the ballot in 10 years. "And this is the first one I've seen contested."

If initiative supporters miss the Aug. 7 deadline, they'll likely try for next March's election.

The measure will likely appear on ballots in Columbia and Yamhill counties, Ekstrom said. So far, the initiative petition also has been filed in Clackamas, Jackson, Marion, Polk and Washington counties. ACLU members have been challenging it as it surfaces.

At this point, the challenges have focused only on procedures. Fidanque said the ACLU will attack the measure's substance if it makes it past the first stages.

The outcome of the initiative would be the opposite of the Constitution Party's goal of smaller government. "It would be very expensive to implement," he said.

"It would require counties to create some bureaucratic means of obtaining consent any time minors use county services -- regardless if they're directed to minors."


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