Brian Boquist

Walkouts, Threats and Negotiations Punctuate Final Legislative Days

Log truck drivers swarmed into Salem to protest legislative passage of a cap and trade proposal, which they say will drive them out of business without perceptibly reduce carbon emissions. The protest stoked a threat by Senate Republicans to stage a second walkout during the 2019 legislative session to delay a vote on the controversial environmental proposal that already has passed the House. [Photo Credit: Claire Withycombe/Capital Capital Bureau]

Log truck drivers swarmed into Salem to protest legislative passage of a cap and trade proposal, which they say will drive them out of business without perceptibly reduce carbon emissions. The protest stoked a threat by Senate Republicans to stage a second walkout during the 2019 legislative session to delay a vote on the controversial environmental proposal that already has passed the House. [Photo Credit: Claire Withycombe/Capital Capital Bureau]

Legislative sessions are easy to start, but a pain to end. Witness what’s happening in Salem as Senate Republicans orchestrated their second walkout and Democratic Governor Brown followed through on her threat to call state police to return lawmakers to the Capitol. She also promised to call a post-July 4 special session if necessary.

The original Senate Republican walkout, which lasted several days, was intended to delay a Senate vote on the $2 billion Student Success Act and its commercial activities tax. The latest Senate GOP threat is aimed at delaying or derailing the cap and trade proposal (House Bill 2020), which they believe will harm Oregon industries such as logging without any perceptible impact on combating climate change. 

The constitutional provision allowing annual sessions requires the 2019 Oregon legislature to adjourn by the end of June 30. A Republican walkout this week may slow down Senate floor votes by denying a quorum. Democrats hold an 18-12 majority, but a quorum requires 20 senators.

The earlier walkout was settled by a negotiation engineered by Brown, who sacrificed gun registration and pro-vaccination legislation to convince Senate Republicans to return and allow the Student Success Act to pass on a partisan basis. This time, Brown has signaled a different approach – calling out the Oregon State Police or dragging lawmakers back into session after July 4.

The prospect of being “arrested” and returned to the state Capitol prompted a sharp outburst by GOP Senator Brian Boquist, who warned on video the governor should send bachelors and well-armed officers to apprehend him. Boquist called himself a “political prisoner.”

Senate GOP Leader Herman Baertschiger served up a similar warning, with a different twist. He vowed to go to federal court, claiming being dragged back to the Capitol would violate his First Amendment free speech rights.

To say the least, it was not a typical day in a legislative session.

Politics, of course, is a lot like kabuki theater. Drama is what you see, but it may mask what’s really going on. Reports were rampant that Senate leaders from both parties were talking about possible amendments to the cap and trade bill, which has already been amended nearly 100 times and passed in its current form in the House by a 36-24 margin.

A walkout by Senate Republicans could jeopardize the policy gains from the first walkout. Advocates of gun registration and pro-vaccination legislation already pounded on the opportunity to revive their bills.

The final days of any legislative session tend to be chaotic, despite the best intentions of well-meaning legislative leaders. All the big issues bottled up during the session or the ones facing 11th-hour negotiating deadlines are suddenly alive. These tend to be issues that can’t just be swept under the rug, so some resolution is necessary.

To outside eyes, the spectacle can seem bizarre and brazen. It is, but it also is how the process grinds to a conclusion, which rarely makes everyone happy, but is enough to allow enough people to vote to go home.

We haven’t seen the final shape of big issues such as cap and trade and a tobacco tax, let alone the infamous Christmas Tree spending bill will enough sugar plums to satisfy exhausted legislators long enough to vote to adjourn. The next few days will be noteworthy for political science nerds and nonsense to most citizens.

The best consolation you can offer is that it will end, eventually. And, the legislature will be back in town in six months.

 

Lawmakers Still Puzzling over Purpose of Short Session

The 2018 Oregon legislative short session is over, but lawmakers are still trying to figure out how to use the even-year session fruitfully amid its unavoidable frenetic pace

The 2018 Oregon legislative short session is over, but lawmakers are still trying to figure out how to use the even-year session fruitfully amid its unavoidable frenetic pace

Oregon lawmakers continue to struggle to find the right mix for the short, even-year legislative session. They adjourned last Saturday after leaving a much-ballyhooed cap-and-invest bill sitting in committee along with a constitutional amendment to treat health care as a right.

Yet, lawmakers did notch notable accomplishments by tightening gun restrictions on domestic abusers, updating the state’s advance directives statute, requiring more transparency on drug pricing and changing the governance structure of Salem-Keizer Transit in return for future access to a local payroll tax.

And lawmakers didn’t totally avoid controversy. With largely Democratic votes, the legislature approved a bill that disconnected from the recently adopted federal tax cut to prevent Oregon small businesses from taking advantage of a previous Oregon tax concession and a new lower 20 percent federal tax rate. There were rumblings Governor Kate Brown might veto the state tax measure, which drew strong opposition from business groups.

The short session also served as a shadow boxing venue for Brown, who is seeking re-election this fall, and her most prominent GOP challenger, Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend. During the session, Buehler laid out his planks of his campaign platform, such as additional investments in child welfare and taking stronger measures to curb the opioid epidemic in Oregon. Brown responded by asking for $14.5 million more for child welfare case workers and pushing her own priority opioid measure.

The shadow boxing hasn’t stopped with legislative adjournment. Buehler called on Brown to veto the Democratic tax bill scrapping a small business tax break. If Brown vetoes the legislation, Buehler will claim credit. If she doesn’t veto the bill, he will condemn her for denying a tax break to small businesses.

The short session was shorter than the 35 days constitutionally allowed. Republicans wanted to head to the beach for the annual Dorchester Conference. Others sped north on the freeway to attend a retirement roast for veteran homebuilder lobbyist and stand-up comic Jon Chandler. Still others braced for filing deadline Tuesday.

As predicted after Senate Democrats hoisted the white flag on cap-and-invest legislation before the short session started, there wasn’t a lot of drama in the Capitol hallways. There was a lot of pressure, however. Short sessions resemble the flurry typical in the last month of a regular legislative session. One lawmaker observed, “In a regular session, there are deadlines followed by time to get work done. In the short session, there are just deadlines.”

Perhaps notwithstanding Brown’s potential veto of tax legislation, GOP Senator Brian Boquist is entertaining a legal challenge clarifying what legislation is truly a “revenue raiser” and on whether a measure to disconnect from the federal tax code that generates new revenue can be approved without a three-fifths majority vote.

In all likelihood, the dawning of primary election season will overshadow what did or didn’t happen in the short session. The primary will be held May 15, which is less than 10 weeks from now – plenty of time for campaign coffees, lawn signs and mailers.

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Dale Penn II is a partner and leader of the CFM’s state affairs team. He has been deeply involved in government relations and regulatory affairs in Oregon for more than 12 years and was active on behalf of a range of clients in the 2018 Oregon legislative session.

 

Negotiator-in-Chief Issues Challenge

In a rare pre-May forecast press conference, Governor Kitzhaber challenged lawmakers to agree to a grand bargain on PERS and new tax revenue or face a shriveled budget for education. He also called on lawmakers to take a bipartisan look at tax reform.

In his third term, Kitzhaber has become known for his keen negotiations skills that have helped to ensure bipartisan passage of his major policy initiatives during the last two sessions.

His methods have included bipartisan legislative leadership meetings at Mahonia Hall, weekly meetings with presiding officers, one-on-one diplomacy with key members, attending caucuses of both parties and, when necessary, public pressure to break logjams in negotiations. He clearly resorted to the latter yesterday.

Signaling that the legislature is at a crossroads and faces a “partisan impasse,” the governor used his public “bully pulpit” to call on legislative leadership to take on two major challenges: