A Session of Accomplishment and Failure

The 2015 Legislative session ended last night, and it included a mixture of wins and losses.

The 2015 Legislative session ended last night, and it included a mixture of wins and losses.

Legislative sessions are remembered for what they accomplished – or what they didn't. The 2015 session might be remembered for both.

The Democratically controlled House and Senate pushed through bills that automatically register to vote anyone with a driver's license, require criminal checks for private gun sales, expand access to contraception for women, require paid sick leave and retain a low carbon fuel standard for motor vehicles.

There was broad consensus on a 4-year extension of the hospital tax as part of a package to sustain Medicaid funding and an early vote on a K-12 budget that gives local school districts time to plan around the actual amount of money they will receive. Legislation passed to regulate police body cameras and forbid racial profiling by law enforcement officers.

Legislators avoided an uglier battle by finding a compromise on gain-share revenues – the amount of state tax revenues returned to communities that enter into large property tax abatement-for-jobs deals with major employers such as Intel. Just before adjournment, legislators approved a $1 billion bonding measure that includes $300 million for school construction.

On the flip side, the 2015 legislative session failed to pass a transportation funding package, which Republicans refused to support unless some or all of the low carbon fuels measure was repealed. There were frantic negotiations around some compromise, but in the end a core of House Democrats refused to budge and the plan died.

Speaker Kotek's attempt to raise the state's minimum wage faltered, as did the effort to require so-called inclusionary zoning for affordable housing units. Senate President Courtney also suffered a high profile defeat when House Democrats failed to go along with $300 million in bonding for seismic retrofitting and restoration of the Oregon Capitol, Courtney’s pet project these past several years.

Lawmakers didn't try to undo the personal income tax kicker, which will send back around $500 million to Oregon taxpayers next year. They also did very little to deal with rapidly rising pharmaceutical costs that threaten to overrun cost savings elsewhere in the health care system.

The 2015 session started fast as Democrats punched through their key agenda items and as Governor Kitzhaber's ethics scandal deepened, leading him to resign in February. Secretary of State Kate Brown, herself a former lawmaker, stepped in and provided a seamless transition and leadership on most legislative issues. Brown put her personal signature on several ethics bills that passed.

The entire session took place under the cloud of how and when to implement Measure 91, the voter-approved initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. Lawmakers allowed the legalization to take effect July 1, even though state-approved dispensaries won't open until later. They settled on how and by whom marijuana can be taxed, but stalled on issues such as the sale of edibles made from marijuana.

Lawmakers return to Salem next February for a short 35-day session. A number of state officials and legislators will have decided by then whether to run for other or higher office in the 2016 general election. House Majority Leader Val Hoyle already has stepped down to start her campaign for secretary of state. Brown is expected to run for the remaining two years of Kitzhaber's gubernatorial term. Democratic Rep. Tobias Read of Beaverton wasted little time in announcing his bid to run for state treasurer. Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who is barred from seeking re-election, has been mentioned as a potential candidate for another statewide office or mayor of Portland. Kotek's name also has been mentioned as a mayoral challenger in Portland.