Oregon’s Notable Laws

Oregon has been the first state to enact a number of laws that some other states adopted later. In 2015 Oregon was the first state to make voter registration automatic, 17 years after Oregon decided to become the first state to hold all elections with mail-in ballots.

Oregon passed the nation’s first bottle bill as an anti-litter law in 1971 and amended the bill in 2007 to include water bottles.

On October 27, 1997 Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act which allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose. Again Oregon was the first state to pass a Death with Dignity Act.

Oregon was the first U.S. state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis, and among the first to authorize its use for medical purposes.

For detailed information about Oregon laws visit the Oregon State Legislature website.

Oregon Coast is Public Land
The Oregon coast is public land so you can walk anywhere on the beach. The bill, signed into law on July 6th, 1967, made Oregon unique among coastal states by guaranteeing public access to the entire coastline, from the California border to the Columbia River mouth.  The law has survived court challenges to become part of the Oregon way of doing things. Visitors are often surprised at what Oregonians take for granted — that they can walk the beaches freely, at least up to the normal high water mark. Supporters say public beach access helps keep people interested in the coast and its environment.  Many Oregonians demonstrate that interest each year by taking part in beach clean-ups, monitoring programs and other volunteer activities.

Oregon System of Initiative and Referendum
This system gained Oregon national recognition for the degree of citizen involvement in the processes of self-government.  Passed by 91% in 1902, Oregon became the third State in the Union to adopt the process.  Since then, Oregon voters have deliberated on over 300 measures, more than any of the other 22 states with similar citizen initiative abilities.  Oregonians are serious about the Oregon System, and many politicians who have abused the law have suffered the consequence at the ballot box. Visit Oregon Votes, a Web site (Oregon Secretary of State) that tracks Oregon initiative and referendum measures.

Oregon Free Speech
Oregon is where speech is freer than anywhere else in the nation — or for that matter, perhaps the world.  Written in 1857, Oregon’s free-speech guarantee in an article of the state constitution. It reads:

“No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.”

This language is broader — “any subject whatever” — than the First Amendment. During the 1980s, the Oregon court concluded that Article 18 absolutely forbids government from passing laws directed at the content of what residents express.

Oregon Bottle Bill
Oregon passed the nation’s first bottle bill as an anti-litter law in 1971 and amended in 2007 to include water bottles, the bottle bill wasn’t just about recycling; it was about changing our “throwaway culture.” Following Oregon’s lead, 10 other states followed with similar bills of their own — including heavily populated states such as California and New York. Today, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, over one million bottles are recycled yearly in Oregon alone under the bottle bill. Recycling these containers reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 — the amount produced by 40,000 cars. In 1982, Republican Governor Vic Atiyeh commented, “Oregonians are proud of the success of the Bottle Bill, the first of its kind in the nation.  We have enjoyed a decade of success with what has become one of the most popular and effective pieces of legislation in the history of the state.”  The law requires that all beer, carbonated soft drink containers, water bottles be returnable and have a minimum refund value.

Mandatory Paid Sick Leave
On June 22, 2015, Oregon became the fourth state to enact a statewide mandatory paid sick leave law. The bill requires Oregon employers to provide up to 40 hours of sick leave to employees per year beginning January 1, 2016, and in most cases that leave time must be paid. Employers with 10 or more employees (six or more for Portland employers) will be required to provide their employees who work in Oregon with up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. Smaller companies are not necessarily off the hook — employers with fewer than 10 employees (fewer than six for Portland employers) will also be required to provide employees with up to 40 hours of sick leave, but this bank of leave time can be unpaid. The law applies to the vast majority of Oregon’s workforce, including full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal employees. There are limited exceptions, including independent contractors, employees receiving paid sick leave under federal law, certain work-training program and work-study program participants, certain railroad workers, and individuals employed by their parent, spouse, or child. The law applies to both private and public-sector employers, but excludes the federal government.

Only Service Station Attendants can Pump Gas in Oregon (Exception for Rural Counties)
The law was enacted in 1951 and the statute has stood up to several court challenges.  The common reason cited for the law are safety. The exception is self-service pumping is allowed between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in counties with fewer than 40,000 people. That covers a wide swatch of the state including almost all of eastern Oregon. Also diesel fuel pumping is self-service.

It’s Legal to Use Your Smartphone as a Navigation Device

It’s legal to touch your smartphone while driving if you’re using it as a navigation device, but not to text or make calls. Oregon police officers treated all cell phone use equally when it came to the state’s cell phone law, which made it a traffic violation to use a “mobile communications device” while operating a vehicle. An Oregon Court of Appeals ruling in 2015 found that the law only prohibits using a mobile communication device “receive and transmit voice or text communication.” The case, Oregon v. Rabanales-Ramos, centered around a woman charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants after being pulled over for using her cell phone. An Oregon State Police trooper spotted the telltale glow of a smartphone screen and pulled the woman over. The trooper, according to his testimony, went on to smell the odor of alcohol and notice the driver’s slurred speech and glassy eyes. The Oregon Court of Appeals found the trooper didn’t have probable cause to make the stop and suppressed the evidence gathered. Though he saw she was using a smartphone, he couldn’t show she had used it receive and transmit voice or text communication.

Oregon Death with Dignity Law
Oregon is one of four states (the others are California, Vermont and Washington) in the nation that has successfully proposed, passed, defended, and implement a law that allows terminally ill patients who meet stringent safeguards to hasten their deaths. Montana has legal physician-assisted suicide via a court ruling. You can read more about the law at the Oregon Department of Human Services website.

In the two decades since Oregon became the first state to legalize medical aid-in-dying, more than 1,300 people have died in Oregon after obtaining lethal prescriptions. The Emericks were among 143 people to do so in 2017, and they appear to be the only couple to ever take the drugs together, at the same time, officials said. Before they died, the Emericks agreed to allow the founders of the Share Wisdom TV Network, of Kirkland, Washington, to record their final days and hours. At first, the video was intended just for family, but then asked her parents for permission to share it publicly. The result is “Living & Dying: A Love Story,” a 45-minute documentary that details the background of the Emericks’ final decision and their resolve in carrying it out. Shot mostly with handheld smartphones, the video captures the intimate moments of the couple’s preparations in their last week of life.


Oregon Vote by Mail
The Oregon Legislature approved mail voting as an option for local elections in 1981.  In November 1998, Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 60, making it the first and only state to go to a complete mail-voting system.  Like Oregon Death with Dignity Law, the Vote by Mail statue has been challenged and the law upheld.  Read more about Oregon’s Vote by Mail law on the Secretary of State’s website.

Register to Vote when Applying or Updating Driver’s License
The “New Motor Voter Bill” was passed by the Oregon lawmakers in March 2015 and it builds on the existing federal “motor voter” law requiring states to offer people an opportunity to register to vote when they get or update a driver’s license. Oregon’s measure, House Bill 2177, goes much further. The secretary of state’s office regularly collect driver’s license data and “provisionally” register people who aren’t already signed up to vote. These prospective voters are sent a notice giving them 21 days to let elections officials know if they don’t want to be registered. As a result, Oregon became the first voter registration system that is “opt out” instead of “opt in.” Newly registered voters are given information on how to register with one of the state’s political parties. If they don’t, they will be listed as non-affiliated. Experts say the new system actually provides greater assurance that only citizens are registering. That’s because Oregon’s Driver & Motor Vehicle Services Division collects citizenship data. Since 2009, the state requires that drivers’ license applicants provide proof of legal residency — and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) data distinguishes between those who are citizens and those who are not.


Oregon is the Only State that Doesn’t Limit Legal Access to Abortion
No waiting periods, no mandated parental involvement, and no limitations on publicly funded abortions. The Portland Monthly magazine in their March 2015 issue provided the answers of how Oregon got to this point. A quote from the article:

“In most of the United States, the female body is a battleground. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of US women live in states hostile to abortion rights. But not in Oregon. Here, access to abortion has survived the endless political battles over “life” vs. “choice,” and we provide more robust support for sex education and contraception than practically any other state.”

“…Oregon was one of the first states to legalize abortion, even before Roe v. Wade hit the law books. “Our policies are borne out of Oregon exceptionalism,” says Michele Stranger Hunter, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, it’s all part of our state’s DNA. In 1969, Oregon was one of the first states to legalize abortion, even before Roe v. Wade hit the law books. We are progressive and libertarian. Voters on the east side of the Cascades may or may not agree with a woman’s right to access abortion, but they sure as heck agree that the government has no place in that decision.”

Pharmacists may Prescribe and Dispense Birth Control
Most Western countries require a doctor’s prescription for hormonal contraceptives like pills, patches and rings, but not in Oregon or California. Women in California and Oregon are able to obtain these types of birth control by getting a prescription directly from the pharmacist who dispenses them, a more convenient and potentially less expensive option than going to the doctor. Pharmacists will be authorized to prescribe contraceptives after a quick screening process in which women fill out a questionnaire about their health and medical histories. It is important to note two things from the bill regarding age. It says a pharmacist may prescribe and dispense birth control if a woman is:

  • At least 18, regardless of whether she has evidence of a previous prescription for a birth control patch or pill
  • Under 18, only if she has evidence of a previous prescription.

Full Year of Contraceptives for Women
On June 11, 2015 Governor Brown signed House Bill 3343, which made Oregon the first state to require insurers to cover 12-month supplies of birth control, including the pill, the patch or the ring at the same time. It passed the Senate 28-0 and the House 55-2. The bill expanded coverage that previously needed to be renewed every 30 or 90 days.


Medical Medical Marijuana Cards for Non-Residents
Oregon is the only state in the country to issue medical marijuana cards to non-residents. Since June 2010, when the state started issuing cards to non-residents, nearly 600 out-of-staters have traveled here to obtain one, according to the Oregon Health Authority, the agency that oversees the state’s medical marijuana program. It’s good for the tourist industry as they have to travel to Oregon once a year to renew their cards. And it’s a small number compared with those issued to Oregonians  — 72,000 in-state residents hold medical marijuana cards.

Marijuana is Legal
Oregon voters approved Measure 91, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state, in November 2014. Fifty-six percent of Oregonians voted in favor of legalization. Under Measure 91, Oregon residents are allowed to grow limited amounts of marijuana on their property and possess limited amounts of pot for personal use. Eventually, when Oregon’s system for legal retail sales is fully implemented, the state’s sales tax on marijuana will be 17 percent, with local governments allowed to levy an additional three percent.

No State Sales Tax Except for Recreational Marijuana
Only five states in the U.S. do not have a state sales tax:  Alaska (cities may levy a sales tax up to 6%), Delaware, Montana, Oregon, and New Hampshire.  Over the years, Oregon voters have rejected a sales tax nine times. On January 1, 2016, after a three-month tax holiday, Oregon imposed a 25 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana sales. It is the first and only sales tax in the state. When Oregon’s system for legal marijuana retail sales is fully implemented, the tax will be replaced with a 17 percent state tax after the Oregon Liquor Control Commission assumes control over recreational marijuana sales which is slated for late 2016. Local governments are allowed to levy an additional three percent.

The Oregon and Portland Difference

High Adoption Rate
Oregon is among the states with the highest percentage of adopted children. 3.0% of children under 18 in Oregon are adopted or one of every 33 children. Four states; Alaska, Montana, Oklahoma and Vermont have higher percentage.  Read the USA 2010 Census Report on Adoption.

Portland’s Tolerance
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, one out of every seven unmarried couples in Multnomah County is a same-sex couple.  The census shows that for couples as a percentage of households in 212 large urban counties nationwide, Multnomah County ranked third in the number of lesbian couples, 11th in the number of gay couples and third in unmarried heterosexual couples. It is also worth noting that in an overwhelmingly white, European American Protestant city, voters elected five Jewish mayors, beginning with Bernard Goldsmith in 1871 through Vera Katz. And despite its relatively small African American population, many blacks have played prominent civic roles in the last few years, including Matthew Prophet as school superintendent, William Hilliard as editor of The Oregonian, James DePreist as Oregon Symphony director, and Dick Bogle and Charles Jordan as city commissioners. Two of the last three police chiefs have been African American including Derrick Foxworth, the current chief (2004).  Visit the US Census Web site.

Willamette River
After spending 1.4 billion dollars, the Willamette River is recovering.  Prior to the cleanup which finished in late 2011, raw sewage overflows and runoff renders much of the river unsafe for swimming, wading and boating during rainstorms. A 20-year program to expand the city’s sewer system is in progress and upon completion, bureau officials expect sewer overflows to occur an average of four times each winter, and once every three years during the summer, instead of the previous average of 50 times a year.


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 Willamette River


Oregon Coast


 Vote by Mail


Oregon passed the nation’s first bottle bill
as an anti-litter law in 1971.


Only service station attendants can pump
gas in Oregon.  The exception is self-service pumping is allowed between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in counties with fewer than 40,000 people. That covers a wide swath of the state including almost all of eastern Oregon.


Oregon is the only state to issue Medical Marijuana cards to non-residents.

jason_clyde commons chef

NY Times
A quote from Jason Barwikowski, the chef at Clyde Commons.  Jason arrived in Portland in early 2007 after working in a few Wyoming restaurants.

“I still snowboard and fly-fish and rock climb and ride bikes.  Half an hour in any direction and you’re in the mountains or woods.”


Priscilla Shumate, the No. 2-ranked female handball professional, now a Portlander on her first visit to the city.

“It was the coolest city I’d ever been to.”