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Entries in legislature (21)


Grading The Legislative Session: Probably B

At the risk of sounding like a teacher, I would give the legislature about a B grade this session.

Last Thursday at about 2:45 p.m. — a reasonable hour by past standards — the session closed to the normal huzzahs for a job well done. To be sure, the legislature can take credit for accomplishments in the areas of education, health care and redistricting.

In a House marked by split control for the first time in Oregon's history, it would be normal to count the accomplishments; each side was equally in charge, so each would get the credit or the debit.

In the Senate, Republicans, who were in the minority by one vote, came across as more critical, especially in regard to their session-long complaint that there was not enough focus on job creation.

Here are a few perceptions about the legislative session beyond the education, health care and redistricting subjects:

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House Democrats Shake Up the Caucus After Sine Die

Oregon House Democrats ousted Rep. Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, as their caucus leader Thursday night and voted in Rep. Tina Kotek, D-North Portland.

The elections came just a half hour after the legislature adjourned Thursday afternoon. Throughout the legislative session, rumors circulated of division and discontent within the caucus, and much of the blame fell to Hunt.

The June 30 post-session caucus election had been scheduled for months, according to Hunt.

Other sources said the election was part of a deal worked out in December to end a power struggle within the caucus. Hunt's peers elected him caucus leader in December, following an election that left the House split with 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats. Hunt was Speaker of the House before the election, but he was replaced by Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, whom many thought would be able to wor

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Standing in the Way of Adjournment

As legislators continue to push for adjournment, which could come as early as June 17 or 18, several issues stand in the way.

  • GENERAL FUND BUDGETS:  So far, only one major general fund budget – the K-12 schools budget – has cleared the legislature. And, even there, House Democrats are pushing for more school funding out of the Education Stability Fund to cushion the blow of teacher layoffs and school closures.  Budgets for human services, higher education and public safety should begin moving through Ways and Means subcommittees this week to meet the  leadership-imposed deadline of June 7 to act on all state budgets.
  • HEALTH CARE FUNDING CONTROVERSIES:  The health care budget has been particularly controversial. Four legislators – Senator Al Bates, D-Ashland, Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Rep. Tim Freeman, R-Roseburg – have been negotiating with leaders of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS) to increase the hospital tax, reducing deeper cuts in the state's Medicaid budget. They agreed to impose a tax increase, which can be implemented without legislative action by the Oregon Health Authority.
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Plastic Bag Ban, Bottle Bill Get Last-Minute Green Lights

Two of this session's prominent bills involve plastic products. Last week both of them – the plastic bag ban and the Bottle Bill expansion – barely squeaked out of committee before a deadline that would have rendered them dead this session.

Senate Bill 536, the plastic bag ban, moved out the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a party-line vote. It didn't quite make it to the Senate floor, where the vote count is 15-15. Instead, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, referred it to Senate Rules, which isn't subject to deadlines to move bills.

The battle over SB 536 pits the plastics industry against environmental groups and grocers, such as Safeway and Fred Meyer, which are the main proponents of the bill. Grocers are eager to head off municipal limits on plastic bags that would create a piecemeal system of plastic bag bans and taxes, resulting, they say, in a bureaucratic nightmare for them to navigate.

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Bi-Partisanship and Civility: The First Signs of Fracture?

That could be true based on several events last week – and it also could be true as legislators come face-to-face with the tough decisions they knew would dominate this session.

First, in a very unusual development last week, Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, took to the House floor to lambast Democratic leader Rep. Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone.

As The Oregonian put it: "Standing on the House floor, his hands shaking with nerves and anger, Republican Rep. Kennemer accused Democrats of 'lies, lies,' and then demanded the resignation of Rep. Hunt, the Democratic leader and former speaker."

This is unusual because there is a written code, and also a longstanding tradition, to avoid personal attacks on the House floor. Kennemer was interrupted once in his remarks, but then was able to continue to the end. He called for Hunt's resignation claiming Hunt and then- Majority Leader Mary Nolan, D-Portland, unfairly attacked Republicans on the campaign trail for favoring a sales tax.

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A Minority Report When There is No Minority

This week, something rare in parliamentary procedure happened in the Oregon legislature: A minority report was passed in the House and approved by the Senate.

Two House Democrats voted in favor of the minority report offered by Republicans for Senate Bill 301, which is a housekeeping bill dealing with the federal tax code. Michelle Cole at The Oregonian has a summary of SB 301 and its contents.

A minority report is an alternative set of amendments offered in committee by members who voted against the the bill as it passed.

What's interesting about this minority report is that there is no political minority in the Oregon House, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. The bill passed out of the House Revenue Committee with support from Republicans because the committee membership is also evenly divided.

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Mini-Dust Up Between Legislators and the Governor's Office

Senator Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, accused the governor's office last week of muzzling agency directors who are asked to appear before legislative committees to discuss pending bills.

The impetus for his charge?

The governor's chief of staff, Curtis Robinhold, sent a memorandum to agency directors in early February that said:

"There should be no surprises to the Governor's Office on the input agencies provide in formal committee testimony or otherwise regarding pending legislation. As such, even if expressing a 'neutral' position and providing factual information, agencies must provide a heads up to the Governor's Legislative Director and assigned Policy Advisor in advance. Agencies must obtain authorization from the Governor's Legislative Director or their assigned Policy Advisor before supporting or opposing bills, whether at their own initiative or when asked for input from stakeholders or legislators."

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Plastic Bags: Useful for Carrying Things and… Collectors Items?

My how times have changed. After the Oregon legislature and the City of Portland both failed to ban plastic bags in 2010, a plastic bag ban proposal enjoys bipartisan support in the coming legislative session.

Senate Bill 536 was introduced during the legislative organizational days this month. Environmentalists are leading the charge to ban plastic bags, citing litter and other environmental impacts as a reason to get rid of them.

A nickel charge on paper bags helped gain the support of grocers, who want to recoup costs. The nickel charge also will encourage people to bring their own reusable bags, further reducing waste.

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A Day for Pomp and Circumstance

There were a number of high-sounding speeches, a 19-gun salute, music from a Central Oregon choir, a reading by Oregon's poet laureate, an opening prayer and a number of other activities on the first day of the 76th Legislative Assembly in Salem yesterday.

In other words, nothing unusual other than the policymakers who showed up at the Capitol face a daunting task -- balancing the budget for 2011-13 -- and doing so in only six months.

Legislators, new and old, were sworn in to their offices and, in a joint session, they watched as the new governor John Kitzhaber took the oath of office for an unprecededented third term after an eight-year sojourn in private life.

In his inaugural address, Kitzhaber used two analogies -- one involving his beloved salmon and another focusing on re-building a house -- to underline the most important assignment for the new legislature, which is to balance the 2011-13 budget in the face of a huge $3.5 billion projected revenue shortfall on a $16 billion base.  He said Oregonians needed to express the commitment of Oregon's salmon who are born in the upper reaches of rivers on the slopes of the Cascade and Coast mountain ranges, then make their way out to the ocean to live for a time before enduring the tough climb back up those rivers to spawn where they were born.

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The Legislature Moves Toward Organization

“Planning for bipartisan coalition governance...” said House Speaker Dave Hunt the day after the November 2 election. The statement seems neither hopeful, nor hopeless. So how has the Legislature organized itself since the election?

The recounts are finished with no change to initial results. The Democrats still have a majority in the Senate, albeit this time by only one vote instead of three. Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, is still a senator; Alan Olsen, R-Canby, will replace Senator Martha Schrader. Senator Peter Courtney, D-Salem, will remain the Senate President. Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, will co-chair the Full Ways and Means Committee, handing over control of the Senate Democratic Caucus to Sen. Diane Rosenbaum of Portland. Senate Committee assignments already have been decided.

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