The Weed, Guns and Booze Session

Some lawmakers fret that voters will wonder why the 2014 short session is focusing on bills to regulate pot, require gun background checks and increase access to liquor. Photo by Benjamin Brink of The Oregonian.Legislator e-letters to constituents are signaling the 2014 session will take up legislation relating to gun control, pot legalization and liquor privatization. Those issues may make the headlines, but the real work of the session is to refine biennial budgets — yet again, with fewer resources than budget writers expected at the end of the last session. 

The arcane process of state budgeting is hardly the stuff of eye catching headlines — in the paper or in constituent newsletters. Still, it’s true that even-year legislative sessions have inescapably become the second-chance opportunity for legislation that didn’t quite make it through the hoops at the longer, odd-year regular session. It also becomes the last chance to do something legislatively before a major issue shows up on a November general election ballot. And the short session offers an opportunity to pass a bill on a topic that has captured the moment.

Gun background check legislation falls into the second-chance category, while pot legalization and liquor privatization belong to the last-chance category. Faced with the prospect of potentially popular initiatives, lawmakers are considering pot and liquor bills that offer an alternative.

Catch-up legislation to the Cover Oregon website debacle heads the opportunity category.

The Columbia River Crossing commands its own special category — the last-ditch, Hail Mary category. After the Washington legislature failed to approve funding for an I-5 bridge replacement at its regular session last year and is unlikely to do so in its session currently underway in Olympia, Oregon is left with a choice of whether or not to step out on its own. Opponents have stoked fears of the risk to Oregon taxpayers and those trepidations seem to be hitting the nerve in a number of former legislative supporters, including Senate President Peter Courtney. One Capitol wag said the project isn't dead, but is a "walking zombie."

Some legislators are bothered at the specter of a legislative session that may be branded as the session of "weed, guns and booze." They fret voters may wonder why the short-session agenda didn’t have more to do with K-12 school improvement, job creation and tax reform. 

When put side-by-side, dealing with regulated pot, gun checks and liquor access may seem a lot simpler to imagine than how to upgrade student performance, put people back to work and make the tax system fairer. Regardless of what the headlines say, the legislature will be spending a more time on the state’s pocketbook than on its vices.