Salem

The Legislative Trail from Salem to Olympia

Passing bills in the Oregon and Washington legislatures is similar, but markedly different in key ways, such as a power Rules Committee and permitting floor amendments in Washington. But Oregon knows how to adjourn on time; Washington not so much.

Passing bills in the Oregon and Washington legislatures is similar, but markedly different in key ways, such as a power Rules Committee and permitting floor amendments in Washington. But Oregon knows how to adjourn on time; Washington not so much.

Early adjournment of Oregon's short 2016 legislative session provided an opportunity to hop on a train and see the waning days of the Washington Legislature in Olympia. I was looking for similarities and differences, and I found plenty of both. 

Generally, Oregon's and Washington’s legislatures are similar. They are both “citizen” legislatures. They meet annually, with longer sessions in odd-numbered years and shorter ones in even-numbered years. They also tend to wait until the last minute to pass major bills, after extended periods of political jockeying and horse-trading.

Now, here are are some key differences I noticed. 

Washington's Rules Committee wields real power: All Washington policy bills must go to through the Rules Committee before reaching the floor. This gives the Rules Committee significant authority, ultimately deciding, on almost all of the bills, whether they die or go to the floor for a vote. Oregon also has a politically driven Rules Committee, but leadership only sends select bills there for review – or to wait until a political compromise is worked out behind closed doors. 

Washington’s Senate operates more like Congress: Washington has a lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate but only can vote in case of a tie, much like the vice president. Washington’s lieutenant governor is elected separately from the governor and serves with no term limit. Oregon doesn’t have a lieutenant governor. The independently elected secretary of state is next in line, as we saw last year when Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned and Secretary of State Kate Brown replaced him. Oregon’s Senate selects its own presiding officer from its membership, who votes on all bills just like his or her colleagues.

Floor amendments are permitted in Washington, but not in Oregon: Washington lawmakers can and often do offer floor amendments. On the day I visited, a public school bill that had been jerked to the House floor without going through the Rules Committee faced a floor debate over 27 separate amendments. After a lengthy debate, eight amendments passed, including one that replaced the entire original bill. Oregon lawmakers can petition to have a bill pulled out of committee, but it rarely happens. Once a bill reaches the Oregon House or Senate floor, it is not subject to amendment. Lawmakers can defeat a bill, vote to send it back to committee or vote for or against a minority report, if one is approved in committee. Most of the time floor votes on “amendments” are stalling tactics in Oregon. Overall, the committees have more sway in the Oregon legislative system. 

Oregon gets out on time, Washington does not: In six of the last seven years, Washington has developed a habit of missing constitutionally established deadlines on the budget, forcing one or more special sessions each time. Again this session, the Washington Legislature fell short of reaching a budget agreement by Thursday at midnight and went into a special session almost immediately. Governor Jay Inslee vetoed 27 bills as punishment for not reaching a budget deal in time. The intention behind his actions is to stop the cycle of consistently late budgets.

In Oregon, experienced legislative leaders have been able to adjourn early, including in the shorter even-year sessions during which Oregon has 35 days compared to Washington’s 60 days to hammer out bills and adjust the budget. Washington, unlike Oregon, has tried to skate around a state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature inadequately funds public schools, which puts knots in the budget process.

Seeing the differences between legislating in Salem and Olympia firsthand was insightful. It was a reminder that the intricacies of how a bill becomes a law can vary from state to state and from bill to bill, but it’s never quite as simple as the Schoolhouse Rock interpretation of how a bill becomes a law.

What Matters Most to You in 2016?

As we head into a new year, CFM wants to know what policy priorities are most important to Oregonians for 2016. Lawmakers will convene a new legislative session in February, but they will only have 35 days to get their work done .

As we head into a new year, CFM wants to know what policy priorities are most important to Oregonians for 2016. Lawmakers will convene a new legislative session in February, but they will only have 35 days to get their work done.

From tackling Portland’s housing crisis to negotiating a plan for an unprecedented minimum wage hike, Oregon lawmakers have their work cut out for them in 2016.  

Education, health care, transportation, human services, consumer protection, environmental preservation, criminal justice, taxation: Those are just some of the priority areas calling for swift action and firm leadership in Salem as we look ahead to the next year. 

The Oregon legislature convenes February 1 for a brisk 35-day session. Soon after, statewide elected positions will be contested in the May primary and November general elections.

In the meantime, CFM wants to know what issues matter most to you. Is it finding more revenue for education and social services? Improving transportation infrastructure? Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

As we ponder the political battles ahead, CFM invites you to share what you believe demands the most attention from Oregon's elected leaders. Here’s what we’re looking for:

•  What are the top two policy priorities facing Oregon? 

•  For each of your two priorities, provide a short explanation of what you think should be done and how it should get done. Is legislation needed? Better enforcement? Bully pulpit leadership? Bipartisan support? Be as specific as you can.

•  In addition to your top two policy priorities, tell us what you expect in terms of leadership from Oregon's governor and from House and Senate leaders. What would you regard as real leadership? How can leadership be manifested so it produces positive results? What would you see as a lack of leadership?

Send us your submissions through Friday, January 8, and we’ll share them shortly after on our Oregon Insider blog.

This isn't a contest or a survey. Our intention is to reflect the range of thoughts and concerns that everyone shares with us. We will point out areas where a number of people's priorities overlap, but we also will include priorities that may generate only a single recommendation.

Please send your submissions to Justin Runquist, CFM’s communications counsel, at justinr@cfmpdx.com.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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.