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Reading of the Bills: Oregon Constitution Art. IV §19


The Reading of the Bills in the Oregon Senate reminded me of the Running of the Bulls, but instead of trying to speed up the bull, so to speak, legislators try to slow down the bill.

See this news story (among others) for example: “Oregon Senate Republicans protest COVID restrictions with delay tactics,” by Dirk VanderHart (OPB), April 28, 2021.

So, a little Oregon history, in Three Parts (the last being the most interesting one):

PART ONE: Article IV, Section 19, in the original 1857 Oregon Constitution:

Oregon Constitution, Art. IV §19, pre-1946: This section appeared in the original September 18, 1857, Oregon Constitution, and read:

“Section No. 19
Every bill shall be read by sections, on three several days, in each house: unless in case of emergency, two thirds of the house, where such bill may be depending, shall by a vote of yeas and nays, deem it expedient to dispense with this rule; but the reading of a bill by sections on its final passage, shall in no case be dispensed with, and the vote on the passage of every bill, or joint resolution shall be taken by yeas, and nays.

Source: Link to PDFs of the original 1857 Constitution and a transcribed version from the Oregon Secretary of State’s Blue Book website.

PART TWO: An amended (and still in force in 2021) Article IV, Section 19, originated in the 1945 legislative session as SJR 15 (read text below) and was referred to the voters:

a) Oregon Constitution, Art. IV §19, post-1946 (from the Blue Book or the Oregon Legislature’s website) and the Bill Reading requirement in the Oregon Constitution (2021): read both Art. IV §19 (Reading of bills; vote on final passage) and ARTICLE X-A, Section 3 (Catastrophic Disasters).

b) The amended Art. IV, Section 19 of the Oregon Constitution section originated as a 1945 Senate Joint Resolution (SJR 15), which was referred to the voters and appeared on the 1946 General Election ballot as Measure 5. The Measure was approved, yes:145,248 to no votes: 113,279.
Source: Oregon Blue Book, Oregon Election History, Initiative, Referendum, and Recall (PDF).

c) The text of SJR 15 (1945) (Available in print from the State Archives, for a fee, or you can email the State Library, the State Law Library, or any Oregon county law library that has access to the print Oregon Laws 1945 volume and ask for a PDF to be sent to you).
Source: I copied it from 1945 Oregon Laws, 43rd Legislative Assembly, Regular Session, page 861:


Be It Resolved by the State of the State of Oregon, the House of Representatives jointly concurring:

That section 19, article IV of the constitution of the state of Oregon, be and the same hereby is amended so as to read as follows:

Sec. 19. Every bill shall be read by title only on three several days, in each house, unless in case of emergency two-thirds of the house where such bill may be pending shall, by a vote of yeas and nays, deem it expedient to dispense with this rule; provided, however, on its final passage such bill shall be read section by section unless such requirement be suspended by a vote of two-thirds of the house where such bill may be pending, and the vote on the final passage of every bill or joint resolution shall be taken by yeas and nays….”
Filed in the office of the secretary of state April 2, 1945.

PART THREE: 1946 Ballot Measure 5: Argument in Favor

A  look at the Voter Pamphlet for that 1946 General Election, shows the text of Measure 5 and the argument in favor; there was no argument against. The argument in favor reads:


Submitted by the legislative committee provided by senate joint resolution No. 15 of the forty-third legislative assembly, in favor of the AMENDMENT PERMITTING LEGISLATIVE BILLS TO BE READ BY TITLE ONLY (Ballot Nos. 308 and 309)

“Article IV, Section 19, of the Oregon Constitution provides that every bill pending in the Legislature shall be read, section by section, once a day for three days in each House, unless in an emergency by a vote of two-thirds of the House in which such bill is pending this rule may be dispensed with, but that in no case shall this rule be dispensed with at the time the bill is presented for final passage.

This provision has been in the Oregon Constitution from the time that our Constitution was first adopted and was deemed necessary at that time for the reason that members of the two Houses of the Legislature did not have available to them copies of the printed bill before its passage, so that they could acquaint themselves with the contents of the legislation on which they were asked to vote. Now, however, due to the fact that all bills are printed and presented to the members by the time that such bills come up for second reading, such rule concerning the reading of bills is no longer necessary as the members have the entire contents of the bill before them and have ample time in which to make an analysis of its contents.

The custom has been for many years in both Houses of our Legislature to have each bill read only by its title, and the only time this is deviated from is when some one member or a small minority group desire to hold up the entire proceedings of the body in order to force their will upon the majority on some piece of legislation. A single member may accomplish this by insisting that all bills be read in full. This proceeding of forcing bills to be read in full by some disgruntled member has caused a number of sessions of the Legislature to be continued longer than such sessions would otherwise have run, costing thousands of dollars to the tax payers and great inconvenience and disorder in our legislative branch of government. This provision of our Constitution is outmoded and should be repealed.

State Senator, Coos Bay, Oregon.
State Representative, Baker, Oregon.
State Representative, Portland, Oregon.

Source: Oregon Voter Pamphlets are available to read at the Oregon State Library’s Digital Collection.

Miscellaneous Legal Research Notes:

I did not find any published legal opinions on whether or not the chambers have to read the bills only when legislators are present (or if the bills can be read 24/7), which doesn’t mean a legislator hasn’t asked Legislative Counsel for an opinion on the matter. There are, however, several initiative petitions being developed for the 2022 election that would modify the current Article IV, Section 19, bill reading requirement. You can research these at the Oregon Secretary of State’s 2022 IRR Database, which you can link to from their Initiatives, Referendums and Referrals website. (Note: the 2022 IRR database website seems to be insecure, so don’t hang out there long until they update their SSL certificate. Yikes.)

You can find additional information about Oregon legislative procedures in the Senate and House rules (from their respective secretary and chief clerk offices).

The Ballot Measure Archive Project resides at the Portland State University Library.

If you want to research the Oregon Constitution or the Oregon Legislature’s history, you will need to visit an Oregon law library or the State Archives. Not all Oregon government research materials are online, although some of them are.

For example, the notes to the Oregon Constitution exhibit at the Oregon Archives has several references that can be found online, via databases available at your public libraries, county law libraries, and the State Law Library.

Neither the Legislature nor the State Archives has digitized copies of pre-2007 Oregon Laws (official versions are in print only). They are available through HeinOnline and your public librarians who either have HeinOnline or who can ask on their librarian networks for copies of these and other Oregon state government documents.

Extra credit:“State Constitutional Limits on Legislative Procedure: Legislative Compliance and Judicial Enforcement,” by Robert F. Williams in Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Volume 17, Issue 1, Winter 1987, Pages 91–114. (Available via JSTOR, which your public libraries may have access to or can borrow for you. Most academic libraries provide remote access to their JSTOR databases.)

Hat tip to the Oregon State Library for their help locating copies of documents that were not online and the Multnomah County Library for their remote access databases.

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