Governor Ben W. Olcott's Administration

Governor's Special Session Message, 1920

Source: MESSAGE Of Ben W. Olcott Governor of Oregon, To the Special Session of the Oregon Legislature

Convened January 12, 1920

To the Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the Oregon Legislature:

You have been convened in extraordinary session for the purpose of considering certain subjects which, information at hand, has led the chief executive of the state to believe of sufficient importance to warrant your careful and early consideration. These are abnormal times and abnormal times are productive of emergencies. It could scarcely have been expected that in your regular session last year human wisdom could have conceived of meeting all possible contingencies during a biennial period fraught with shifting conditions.

To grapple with and overcome the essential emergencies and, as far as possible, to alleviate burdens and solve problems leading to constructive ends, I have exercised the constitutional duty of the executive to “on extraordinary occasions, convene the legislative assembly by proclamation.” Following further the constitutional provision I will state to you here in joint assembly the purposes for which you have been convened.


My primary object in calling together the legislators at this time is to meet a grave emergency seriously affecting the welfare, and, in many instances, the lives of the men and women employed in the industries of our state.

Compensation benefits provided for injured workmen by the Workmen’s Compensation Law were established by the legislature in 1913, when living costs were very materially less than now. If the compensation payments were properly rated at that time, it is self-evident they are wholly inadequate under present conditions.

They are so low that the families of many injured workmen, who are incapacitated for any length of time, are brought to a degree of want that should not prevail when the state has undertaken to provide for its injured workers.

When the legislature was in session a year ago, the prevailing opinion was that the cost of living would soon begin to decrease. For that reason, it was not considered necessary at that time to make a material increase in the compensation benefits. Two changes were made, one increasing the amount to be allowed an injured worker for his children under sixteen years of age from $6.00 to $8.00 per month, and the other providing that the awards for permanent partial disability shall be in addition to the amount paid to the injured workman for temporary time loss.

With the cost of bare necessities continuously on the increase, conditions in the homes of injured workmen continue to grow worse, and the number of appeals to the State Industrial Accident Commission from injured workers or their wives for greater assistance grow in number.

When the members of the commission brought the situation to my attention, I decided it would not be just nor fair to these sufferers to wait another year until the regular session of the legislature should meet to give them relief. It is a condition which should be remedied immediately.

As the Workmen’s Compensation Law was originally drafted by a committee representing the employers, the employees, and the public, I called for a committee representing these three interests to consider the present situation and make recommendations to this extraordinary session of the legislature.

This committee was comprised of five members selected by the organization representing the employers of the state, five selected by the organization representing the employees of the state, and five selected by myself to represent the public at large.

This committee of fifteen met, and has unanimously recommended that a flat increase of 30 per cent be made on all compensation payments dating back to December 1, 1919. A careful investigation in to the funds available to the State Industrial Accident Commission indicates that this increase in compensation benefits may be made without an increase in the rates of contribution to the Industrial Accident Fund by the employers or employees of the state.

The special committee recommends that the increase shall be embodied in an emergency measure, and shall apply to all payments falling due between December 1, 1919, and June 30, 1921.

In addition to an emergency increase in the compensation benefits, this special committee recommends that an act be passed giving authority to the Industrial Accident Commission to expend a portion of these funds for the vocational rehabilitation of injured workmen. It is intended that the commission shall turn its efforts to restoring permanently maimed men and women to positions of self-support where they will again become assets rather than liabilities in their community.

Industry, with its modern machinery and speed of production, is producing more cripples than all the wards that have been fought. As the result of industrial accidents men are losing their arms, or legs, or eyes every week in the year. It is right that these industries, functioning through the State Industrial Accident Commission, should aid in restoring these cripples to sufficient earning capacity to enable them to be self-supporting citizens and not dependents upon society.

To do this it will be necessary to re-educate many of them, or train them in new lines of endeavor, and while they are gaining this new education or new training, it is necessary for someone to support them and their families.

I am already informed that the commission is obtaining good results in the physical rehabilitation of injured workmen, and that the commission contemplates immediate expansion of its efforts along this line. The commission should be given ample authority and the right to use a sufficient portion of its funds to carry on this work.

I fully endorse the recommendations of the special committee, and believe there will be no hesitation on the part of any member of the legislature in thus meeting a situation which affects so many thousand injured workmen and their families.

Approximately 25,000 industrial accidents, affected by the Workmen’s Compensation Law, occur in Oregon each year. Considering the families of these injured workmen, it is estimated that between 50,000 and 75,000 persons will be directly concerned in these proposed measures of relief.


I desire to direct your attention to an action I deem necessary in connection with carrying out the provisions of the bill enacted by the people at the special election last June extending financial aid for the education of soldiers, sailors, and marines who participated in the great war.

Under that bill a levy of two-tenths of a mill on a dollar of the total taxable property of the state is to be included in the state tax levy annually. This levy approximated slightly over $198,000.00 for the first year. That amount is far below the sum which will be required to carry out the provisions of the act. In fact, it has developed on the basis of an estimate made in the secretary of state’s office, that the sum raised by the two-tenth of a mill levy will just about pay the bills to the first of January this year with no actual funds left available to carry out the administration of the act during the balance of 1920.

As you will remember, the bill provides for the payment of $25.00 a month toward the education of each of these men, but not to exceed a total of $200.00 in any one year for any one man. This provides for aid during but eight months of the year. Consequently we must make provision for eight months of the year in 1920.

I regret that I can not give you exactly definite figures at this time. The number of applications for this aid fluctuate. Some who have applied for aid have dropped out, or probably will drop out. But on the other hand new applications are constantly being received. So far nearly 3,000 applications have been filed. By as careful a survey as possible under the circumstances, the secretary of state’s office now estimates that $450,000.00 will probably meet the bills accruing under the provisions of this act for the current year. I make no suggestion as to the necessity for providing funds up to the time the next legislature meets, which will be after the first of next year, because on January 1, 1921, a new sum of money will be available from the two-tenths of a mill levy which will tide over the situation until the regular session convenes in that year.

I wish to call your attention to the fact that the emergency board, being apprised of the situation that would arise, already has allowed the incurring of a liability in the sum of $300,000.00. As you are aware certificates of indebtedness, allowed by the emergency board, bear interest at the rate of 6 per cent until paid. If an appropriation is made at this special session to cover the amount that it will be necessary to expend in administering this act during the year of 1920, several thousands of dollars in interest will be saved, in fact a saving which will in a great measures, at least, cover the cost of this special legislative session.

I also respectfully call your attention to the fact that the emergency board has permitted the issuance of certificates of indebtedness in the sum of $10,000.00, that law enforcement work may be further carried on by the executive office. Also an authorization of $10,000.00 was made for the Grain Department of the Public Service Commission. If flat appropriations were made in these amounts interest payments likewise could be avoided on certificates of indebtedness in such sums.

In making the appropriations mentioned it is necessary for you to know that funds will be available so that you will not infringe upon the provisions of the 6 per cent tax limitation amendment. At the time of preparing this message it was impossible to ascertain just the amount that would be available for your disposition owing to the fact that figures were not obtainable from all sources. It is the intention of the secretary of state’s office, however, to have as nearly exact figures as possible for presentation to your ways and means committee at an early date this week.

From pure estimates made at the time of the preparation of this message it seemed likely there would be from $300,000.00 to $500,000.00 accessible from various sources during the current year, which could be drawn upon by legislative appropriation without violating either the spirit or the letter of the 6 per cent limitation amendment.


Article XI-b of the constitution was adopted at the special election held on June 4, 1919, and provides for the payment by the state of interest on irrigation and drainage district bonds for any one or more of the first five years after their issuance. The Irrigation Securities Commission, composed of the attorney general, superintendent of banks, and the state engineer have encountered many obstacles in the operation of the provisions of the amendment, and while a number of changes could be made to advantage, it being a constitutional amendment, it can not be changed by statute. However, it can be supplemented by legislation to advantage.

In order to pay the interest on district bonds, the state is authorized to issue state bonds and it seems to have been the intent of the constitutional amendment that irrigation and drainage districts should advance to the state each year sufficient funds to meet the interest on the state bonds, in order that the state may stand in a position of guarantor of interest on the district bonds without expense to it. However, no definite provision covering this feature was included in the amendment.

The constitutional amendment also requires the district to deposit with the state treasurer certificates of indebtedness, which bear interest at 5 per cent per annum, both principal and interest payable after the irrigation or drainage district bonds have been paid off.

A statute should therefore be enacted authorizing the irrigation and drainage districts to enter into an agreement with the state to advance to the state semi-annually the interest on state bonds, the proceeds of which are used to pay interest on district bonds, and should also provide that the funds so advanced may be credited on the interest accruing on the district’s certificate of indebtedness, filed with the state treasure. The Irrigation Securities Commission should also be fully authorized to enter into such a contract in order that any question as to the legality of such proceedings be eliminated.

It may be desirable to frame a new constitutional amendments, so as to eliminate the objectionable feature of the present amendment. The only result of a failure to adopt such an amendment would be to leave the present amendment in effect.


Since the adjournment of the regular session in 1919 a wave of crime has swept over the country. Oregon has suffered from this criminal blight and during the past few months the commission of a number of cold blooded and fiendish homicides has aroused our people to a demand for greater and more certain protection. Of all our assets that demand protection and conservation, non is greater in value than human life. The first object of our laws should be for its protection and for that reason I am submitting to you at this time some recommendations relative to our criminal and penal codes which I trust will have your most careful consideration.

Because of a series of dastardly homicidal offense a distinct public sentiment has developed that the people of the state should once more be given an opportunity to pass upon the question of the restoration of capital punishment and that there should be no unnecessary delay in bringing this question before the electorate.

Because of this urgency I am taking the liberty of suggesting that the matter of repealing the present constitutional inhibition on capital punishment and enacting such amendments to our organic law in that regard as may be deemed proper, be submitted to a vote of all of the people of the state at a special election be held in connection with the regular primary elections on Friday, May 21, of this year.

At my request the attorney general has examined into the legality of holding such special election on primary day. He advises me, that after a thorough examination of the law, he is satisfied such an election may be held without fear of jeopardizing the validity of such constitutional amendments or statutes as may be enacted at that time. He advises further, however, that to legalize such an election would require a special legislative act.

The attorney general has called attention to the fact that following the abolition of capital punishment by the enactment of a constitutional amendment to that effect, the legislature repealed a number of statutes which provided for the carrying out of the death penalty for commission of certain crimes.

As a result, he points out, to merely deal with the constitutional phases of a question would not again place capital punishment in actual operation. To meet the situation he has suggested that the legislature, at this session, re-enact those old statutes, or replace them with others. By the legislature pursuing this course, whatever statutes might be enacted would become effective at such time as the people remove the constitutional inhibition against the death penalty.

While it is a matter solely for legislative determination, I would be opposed to the calling of a special election to be held upon any other day than primary election day. To hold such an election upon any other day would entail an expense of approximately $100,000.00, or possibly more. Held upon primary day the election machinery used for the primary elections could be set under way for the special election and the expense to the state would be nominal at the most.


While touching upon the question of capital punishment I feel it incumbent upon me to further mention some phases of criminal legislation which I deem of such urgency as to warrant your serious thought. These recommendations also deal with the safety of the lives of our citizens and consequently are of paramount importance.

By watching the operation of the parole law of 1919 with a careful first hand survey I am satisfied that its provisions are such, in many particulars, as to have a tendency toward placing the lives and persons of our citizens in jeopardy.

I wish to respectfully recommend that your body so amend the parole law that its operation will be suspended and that it cease to function entirely as to all persons convicted of commission of the graver crimes against the person. In my opinion the law should be amended that flat sentences be imposed in cases where convictions has been had on charges of homicide in any degree; rape, where violence is an element of the crime; robbery of any kind; burglary, when armed with a dangerous weapon, and assault with intent to kill while being armed with a dangerous weapon. There can be no palliation of such offenses, and I would have the word go forth that Oregon will in the future meet such offenses with a flat penalty that will be carried out to the end. The only mitigation I would suggest would be to allow the deduction from the total sentence of a reasonable number of days for good conduct, but this deduction should be nominal and not such a deduction as to make any decidedly appreciable reduction in the sentence.

For all classes of crime other than those enumerated, I would still leave the functioning of the parole law, but with such amendment as I am about to suggest.

For those of you who may not remember distinctly the provisions of that law I will say, in brief, that for all offenses, except murder or treason, parole privileges are allowable upon the expiration of one-fourth of the maximum sentence, minus deduction of certain days as credit for good conduct.

While I would make the law applicable for all cases except in the cases of men convicted for the grave crimes against the person, which I have pointed out to you, I would increase the minimum sentence allowed to one-half the maximum sentence, minus deduction of certain days as credit for good conduct.

While I would make the law applicable for all cases except in the cases of men convicted for the grave crimes against the person, which I have pointed out to you, I would increase the minimum sentence allowed to one-half the maximum to supersede the one-fourth of the maximum now allowed. I still would leave in effect the credits allowed for good conduct. Granting of such credits is excellent in theory and has worked well in practice.

The minimum sentence of one-fourth of the maximum, as allowed by the law as it now stands gives an inadequate degree of punishment. As a concrete example, a man sentenced to one year in the penitentiary is entitled to parole at the expiration of two and one-half months, when he is given the benefit of his good time credits. This throws the parole boards into an impossible position. Unless recognition is given for exemplary conduct the advantages of the good time credits are nullified. To give such recognition reduces the sentence to a travesty. The solution is a much longer minimum. By imposing the longer minimum the courts may take into account the gravity of the offense in imposing sentence; the offender is given more nearly that degree of punishment which the crime calls for, and the good time credits feature gives the prisoner something practical to work for.

In further explaining my reasons for these proposed changes I wish to say primarily that as far as paroled men themselves are concerned, the parole system has been in the main a success. A great majority of paroled men have “made good,” to speak to in their own parlance . Cases of genuine reformation are frequent and many of them have been excellent citizens of your state for years.

In punishing criminals society has two functions to perform. One is for the protection of society itself; the other the reformation of the criminal. Society owes its first duty to itself. For that reason a criminal who commits a grave crime against the person should be sentenced for a definite term and should be compelled to serve that term, unless his innocence is alter established. Because some of that class of prisoners “make good” upon parole is not a complete solution of their problem. The fact that many of such prisoners, by operation of the parole law itself, are allowed to enjoy parole privileges, sometimes after comparatively brief periods of incarceration, has a decidedly bad effect on the potential criminal. By a stern and unyielding application of the law in the cases mentioned, the potential criminal will realize what is awaiting him if he oversteps the bounds of the law. Rigid enforcement of the penalties imposed I believe will result often in staying the hand that otherwise might be raised to rob, to attack or to kill.

On the other hand, reasonable parole privileges, with a minimum sufficient to insure ample punishment for the lesser crimes, will tend to satisfy the demand for reformation which all of us are anxious to see worked out in the breasts of the youthful and the less violent offenders against our laws.

During my administration a decidedly serious effort has been made to use the power of executive clemency conservatively. In all vases where conditional pardons have been applied for no consideration has been given such applications without first receiving affirmative recommendations from the presiding judge and district attorney who acted on the case. This rule may have been deviated from in one or two instances where the prisoner was in a serious physical condition which demanded prompt outside attention, but in those cases proper precautions were exercised.

The parole board has used as conservative a policy as the very broad an liberal law of 1919 has allowed. That law, with its good time credits and the very low minimum established, has practically forced the parole board on occasions to make recommendations even against its judgment. This situation should be changed and because of its serious phases I earnestly urge your serious consideration of these recommendations that greater protection and safeguards may be thrown about the lives, persons and property of the citizens of our state.


It will be my pleasure to have forwarded to your honorable body for ratification the resolution of the congress of the United States of America providing for an amendment to our federal constitution which will extend to the women of our nation the right of suffrage. This is a matter which I recommend to your early attention and I am certain you will not deem it presumptuous if I express the hope that you give your unanimous approval to the ratification of this amendment.


Because of the relative value of Oregon’s fish and game life in all that the state in endeavoring to accomplish in the attracting of tourists; in the move to make life better for our own citizens, and in light of the fact that in involves one of our greatest and most productive industries, I feel that it devolves upon me to present at this special session of the legislature some pertinent recommendations in regard to the fish and game situation.

It is too well known a fact to need corroborative evidence from me that dissension and factionalism over the administration of this important branch of state government has resulted in robbing it of its highest degree of efficiency and materially impairing development and conservation work. I assume that all who have expressed conflicting opinions as to the situation have done so with honesty of purpose and the best of intent. Regardless of this, dissension has been evident, the people of the state have developed distrust, and a condition has grown up which demands a speedy and effective change.

In prefacing my proposals as to what I deem the most expedient and essential changes I wish to say frankly that my familiarity with the situation and with the temper of the people in all parts of the state convinces me beyond the shadow of a doubt that unless some material and beneficial changes are made the life of one of our greatest industries—the salmon industry—may be placed in jeopardy. In addition the conservation of our wild game birds and fish may also suffer and their propagation may decline.

I have no intention or desire to enter into the merits of the various controversies which have shaken the fish and game administration. Regardless of what the merits of these controversies may be, the fact remains that bickerings and wranglings have developed a hopeless situation which must be met by a new deal if we are to attain what we desire—highest efficiency and the best results. Doubt and distrust have existed. We must recognize this fact and that as long as such continue we will have a condition not conducive to the best welfare of the interests involved, or of the state as a whole.

To meet the situation openly and frankly, to forget old trials and tribulations may be difficult to do, but I deem it our duty in the premises to do so. For that reason I have formulated certain suggestions which I trust you will weigh carefully and consider advisedly. If my suggestions may be improved upon, if a better plan can be devised to bring about the same results, I will welcome that solution with the same sort of an open mind which I am asking all interested to have when they approach this situation for final determination.

Briefly I propose the following recommendations for you consideration:

Creation of a new commission of three members to have complete control and jurisdiction over the enforcement of all laws, over the expenditure of all money and over such other matters as may pertain to the state’s administration of the commercial fishing interests of the state.

Creation of a new commission of five members to have complete control and jurisdiction over the enforcement of all laws, over the expenditure of all money and such other matters as may pertain to the state’s administration of the wild game and fish life of the state.

For your information I will advise that a week ago I called together in Salem members of the fisheries and game committees of both the house and senate to discuss various phrases of the fish and game controversy and if possible to formulate a bill for presentation to this session.

As a result of that meeting such a bill, I understand, will be presented to you providing, in a general way, for one commission with two separate divisions within the commission, to have control over the commercial and sportsmen’s interests, respectively. With an additional member independent of the two divisions acting in the capacity of an arbitrator.

I still feel, however, that a complete separation of the two interests would lead to more harmonious relations.

But there must be give and take in arriving at a conclusion where many minds are thinking along many lines and the best compromise the legislature may effect which to my mind will bring about harmony and good results will be acceptable to the executive office.

Whatever may be your disposition of the matter, I wish to assert positively that the chief executive of the state should not be a member of either or of any fish and game commission. It is not properly in line with the sphere of his duties, it is not for the best welfare of the interests to be represented, nor is it productive of the best results. To separate the executive office from a membership on the commission is the right and proper thing to do and I assume you would be a move meeting with my hearty approval as a move dictated by discerning wisdom.

The fish and game situation is one close to the hearts of many thousands of our people, it is one of too far reaching importance to allow petty consideration to override and overrule the big results that may be attained. I am confident that, as representatives of the people of the state of Oregon, you will enter into a discussion of this question calmly and dispassionately, with your minds removed from local and personal prejudices and with the single goal in view—the greater welfare of all the state.


In the foregoing message I have endeavored to point out as clearly and as succinctly as possible those matters of material and essential importance which I have deemed most worthy to present to you for consideration. It will be noted that I have somewhat enlarged, in my message, upon the scope of the subjects brought to your attention in the proclamation convoking you into special session. In doing so I acted only after grave consideration, realizing full well the necessity of confining your deliberations to as brief a time as possible to secure the best results. Those additional matters came to my attention since issuing my original proclamation and presented phases which I believed should have your early and earnest attention.

With no thought of intruding on your legislative authority, I feel that this session should not be opened to miscellaneous legislation and should be confined to consideration only of the subjects I have outlined, or matters of similar urgency and importance. I am certain everyone of us feels that the expense of this session should be curtailed to the minimum and that none of us desires to extend its time a solitary day past that which is absolutely necessary to the transaction of important business.

In making my recommendations, I am giving you the product of my best judgment and they are submitted to you for what they are worth. What disposition may be made of them is for legislative action only and I desire to make it clear that during your consideration of legislation no influences, direct or otherwise, will come from the executive offices to endeavor to swerve legislative opinion in one direction or another.

All of us are profoundly mindful of the responsibilities entailed in the tasks set before us. Al of us have the aim and object in view to assist in what way we may toward continued peace, prosperity and well being in this great state of our nativity or adoption and I feel well assured we will all look ahead to meeting those tasks and accomplishing them with earnest minds and conscientious, honest effort.

January 12, 1920.

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