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Entries in sine die (6)


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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Push to Adjourn Follows Weekend Off

Legislators came close to adjourning late last week, but decided to take the weekend off and return today for the final push.
Standing in the way is an agreement on the Corrections Department and a way to fill a $20 million budget hole.

Here's the way one legislator, Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, put it in a newsletter to his constituents:

"Two weeks ago, I expected we would have adjourned this legislative session by last Friday, June17th. Last Friday I expected we would be adjourned by Wednesday, June 22nd. Last Wednesday I expected we would be adjourned by today, Friday, June 24th. Today I have no idea how long this session will continue. Constitutionally, it must adjourn by July 10th, the final date allowed for the session without a 2/3 vote.

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Health Care Transformation Looms Large in Session End-Game

Now that lawmakers, the governor and interest groups have cut a deal on education bills, including the governor's proposal for a super-board, the Education Investment Board, one of the major issues left to resolve this week goes by a high-sounding name — health care transformation.

Embodied in House Bill 3650, it is a proposal envisioned first by Governor John Kitzhaber to change how health care services are delivered to low-income Oregonians under the joint state-federal Medicaid program. It calls for new delivery organizations, Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs), which would be created by local initiative around the state, replacing "managed care organizations" that for years have functioned much like insurance companies for Medicaid.

The idea, according to Kitzhaber, is "to create a more coordinated system that focuses on prevention, wellness, and community-based management of chronic conditions, making it easier for all Oregonians to access effective, high-quality, low-cost services."

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End of Legislative Session in Sight

Those who roam Capitol hallways in Salem recognize the signs that signal the end of a legislative session. Here are some of them:

  • ONE HOUR NOTICE RULE:  Legislative hearings typically are scheduled with at least 48-hour notice. As the session nears adjournment, required notice drops to an hour. In the past, lobbyists constantly checked bulletin boards for hearing notices. Now they receive e-mail notices, which provides a more reliable means of tracking what is scheduled.
  • COMMITTEES SHUTTING DOWN:  Another sure sign the end is near is closure of committees, other than an informational hearings on interim work plans. All policy committees have stopped meeting. The only committees still active are Revenue, Rules and Ways and Means. Fewer committees mean fewer bills heading to the floor, making the final push to adjournment easier.

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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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Legislature to Adjourn in a Month

A rumor is circulating around the Capitol that legislators are trying to adjourn by June 17. Hard to tell if this can happen or not.

A Joint Ways and Means Committee leader told CFM this week the goal for the budget-writing panel is to finish its work by June 6 or 7. Then it will take another 10 days or so to process all the floor votes and paperwork.

A complication is that only one major general fund budget – the one for K-12 education – has moved on both the House and Senate floors. In the House, the school budget passed by a 32-28 vote when both caucuses agreed to provide the necessary 16 votes to secure passage. The same could happen for other general fund budgets, including those for higher education, law enforcement, prisons and human services.

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