PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Legislature is proposing an amendment to the state constitution to prohibit slavery.
The bill, also known as SJR 10, would also forbid involuntary servitude in all circumstances. If passed, it would allow a court, probation or parole agency to order a convicted person to engage in education, counseling, treatment, community service or other alternatives to incarceration.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley also introduced a constitutional amendment to Congress to end forced unpaid labor. Ahead of Juneteenth, Merkley and Congresswoman Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) introduced the Abolition Amendment, which would revise the 13th Amendment’s slavery exception.
In a Zoom interview with KOIN 6 News, he says the amendment in Salem could have an impact in Washington D.C.
“It’s very important that states address this, and the states addressing it helps create a conversation that enables us to have the federal government consider changing the U.S. Constitution,” said Merkley.
It takes 75% of the states — 38 of 50 — to ratify an amendment before it is adopted. Though thousands of amendments to the Constitution have been discussed since its adoption in 1787, only 27 amendments have been approved and six have been disapproved.
The bill now is on its way to the Oregon Senate, where it’s scheduled to have its third reading June 24.
If approved, the amendment would be put on the ballot for voter approval or rejection during the next general election.
Merkley also discussed S.1, or the For the People Act, which was blocked by Republicans in the U.S. Senate this week. The bill would expand voting rights across the country.
The Oregon Democrat told KOIN 6 News that it’s important to keep pushing for expanded voting rights despite past failures.
“In a republic, the ballot box is the beating heart of the system,” said Merkley. “It is absolutely the way that power flows up from the people. Not down from the privileged and powerful.”
He added, “What happened yesterday was the starting gun not the finish line. We’re going to come back at this time and time and time again because we believe in the vision of a, ‘We the People’ republic.”
Merkley and other Democrats plan to reach out to Republicans about defending voting rights.
If no agreement is made, then he says Democrats will have to figure out how to move forward without bipartisan support.