The 35-day short session of the Oregon Legislature starts Monday with Democrats looking to pass a revamped version of the failed carbon cap-and-trade bill that led to protests last year and a walkout by Senate Republicans, among several other big-ticket items.
State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who has long railed against such big-ticket items in the short session, wants to eliminate it in the future.
Johnson and Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, are the chief co-sponsors of Senate Joint Resolution 202, which would amend the state constitution to eliminate even-numbered regular sessions of the Legislature, holding only odd-numbered year sessions of no longer than 160 days. The resolution’s other 10 sponsors are all Republicans.
Johnson said the Legislature, which created the short session in 2010 to deal with emergencies, pass-down changes from federal legislation and other minor issues, has broken faith with voters by introducing so many major policy discussions.
“It was never intended to be a second bite at the apple for failed bills in the long session,” the senator said.
Johnson said she remains opposed to a revamped climate change bill until the managers at the Georgia-Pacific Wauna Mill, a major employer in Clatsop County, tell her the legislation is OK with them.
Johnson is one of three co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means responsible for writing the state’s budget, along with Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, and Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis. Without enough projected revenue to cover all the asks from the Legislature, they are taking a conservative approach on spending, Johnson said.
Johnson told Astoria radio personality Michael Desmond there is more uncertainty in the upcoming session than she’s ever witnessed. That includes uncertainty over whether Republicans will walk out again and over the health of Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, who has been in the hospital with a staph infection in his replaced hip and could miss the start of the session.
“We are jamming through too many bills too fast without adequate debate, without adequate opportunity for amendment, without adequate minority and majority investment and additional correction or subtraction to the bills,” she told Desmond. “And it results in us having to go back in and fix stuff.”
Besides cap and trade, the Legislature is taking on several controversial pieces of legislation, including two gun control bills. One, Senate Bill 1538, would allow local governments to decide whether guns are allowed on their property. Another, House Bill 4005, would require guns not being carried be locked up or equipped with a trigger lock. Johnson said her record in support of the Second Amendment remains clear.
Senate Joint Resolution 201 would allow voters to decide whether the Legislature needs a two-thirds or one-half quorum to conduct business, potentially tamping down on walkouts. Senate Bill 1524 would set some of the state’s first campaign contribution limits.
Senate Bill 1559 would ban the distribution and sale of flavored vaping products. Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, is the chief sponsor behind House Bill 4075, which would ban coyote-hunting contests. House Bill 4145 would create the crime of threatening a school or place of worship.
Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, D-Astoria, who avoided a recall election over her support last year of the cap-and-trade legislation, enters her second legislative session uncertain whether her colleagues will come to work.
“It’s frankly been a concern of mine that they will walk out again,” she said of Senate Republicans. “I hope they will approach this as adults.”
Mitchell is sponsoring a bill to create a commission she said is necessary for the state to establish a roadmap for its efforts around mental and behavioral health, and another to create a task force looking at the prevailing wage and benefits standards for people who work in Medicare and Medicaid-funded care centers for the elderly and those with disabilities.
“We need to take care of the people who are taking care of people who are really important to us,” she said.
The bill is also meant to address the unintentional hypocrisy of government prevailing wage standards based around the male-dominated construction projects, while wages in the health care industry — dominated by women — are neglected, she said.
Mitchell is chief co-sponsor of a bill with Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Rep. David Smith, R-Port Orford, to appropriate nearly $2.5 million from the general fund for more research into ocean acidification, aquatic vegetation, estuaries, shellfish, along with educational programs to promote the work. The state, with so many seafood and other industries tied up in the health of the ocean, needs to have good information, she said.
Mitchell said she probably wouldn’t support Johnson’s resolution to eliminate the Legislature’s short session.
“Having gone through one long session, there are so many things we didn’t get done in that last long session,” she said. “I think that second session is helpful. I think if anything, we need to focus on making that session run more efficiently. I would like it to be longer than one month.”