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Portland councilors consider potential changes to citizen referendum process

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The Portland City Council is mulling potential changes to the city's referendum process.

To get a question on the local ballot, a group must secure at least 1,500 petitions. And if approved by the voters, the measure cannot be changed for at least five years.

At a workshop on Monday, councilors were mixed on whether to increase that signature threshold. But Councilor Roberto Rodriguez said that the council should be allowed more flexibility to amend policies sooner, if necessary.

"What we're seeing is the impact of policies that have not had a thorough process, that we cannot change. Having a much more undemocratic impact. Because then it locks the elected body into inaction," Rodriguez said.

Any changes to the referendum process would need to be approved by voters in a citywide election.

Councilor Victoria Pelletier argued that it takes a great deal of time and skill to acquire signatures.

And she says the council should consider why the initiative process is being used so often in Portland.

"We should be having a conversation on what we're seeing over the past couple years, from a government perspective. And why we have so many people that are coming forward with referenda, because they don't feel like they can work collaboratively with the council. Which I think is a problem. And it is on us, as councilors, to have that conversation," Pelletier said.

The local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America has used the process in recent years to pass several progressive policies, including rent control, a minimum wage boost, and a local "Green New Deal."