The short session of the state Legislature ended this month after an extended Republican walkout over a controversial cap-and-trade bill crippled the Capitol and left all but three bills dead in its wake.
State Sen. Betsy Johnson and Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, the region’s two Democratic lawmakers, took away different lessons from a rather unproductive five weeks in Salem.
The walkout came over Senate Bill 1530, climate change legislation that would have capped the state’s carbon emissions and required large polluters to buy allowances, investing the proceeds in climate-friendly initiatives.
The bill was an updated version of House Bill 2020, which led to a Republican walkout in 2019 before falling short of the necessary votes. After this year’s session ended, Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order requiring state regulators cap the carbon emissions of vehicles and heavy industry.
The three bills that passed included a $10 increase in the fee for cultural registration license plates; creation of a form for schools to use when students are diagnosed with concussions; and a declaration that Happy Valley is no longer part of a county parks district.
Brown and legislative leaders have broached a special session this spring to reintroduce some of the failed legislation. House and Senate leaders are also discussing a special session to respond to the coronavirus.
Johnson, D-Scappoose, has railed against large policy discussions and previously failed bills being introduced in short sessions. She argues short sessions were created for legislative housecleaning measures, such as harmonizing state and federal policies, checking agency performance against budgets and responding to emergencies such as wildfires and the coronavirus.
“My theory is that if it doesn’t work in five months, it’s not going to work in five weeks,” the senator said.
Johnson and Sen. Kim Thatcher, R- Keizer, co-sponsored a bill to amend the constitution and eliminate the short session. Johnson said she plans to sign on to a ballot initiative targeted for the November election that will take the Legislature back to biennial sessions.
Forty-six states — all except Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas — hold annual sessions. Oregon voters in 2010 passed Measure 71, which amended the state’s constitution to hold annual sessions. Odd-year sessions last up to 160 days, and even-year sessions up to 35.
Mitchell, D-Astoria, attributed the unproductive short session to Republican walkouts rather than a cap-and-trade bill she argued has been under discussion in some form or another over the past decade.
“In walking out, I really fear they have truly undermined the institution and really damaged what our democracy is supposed to be based on,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell, who is not running for reelection, not only supports the short session, but said it should be longer to reflect the increased complexity of governing.
“I think there should be two four-month sessions (each biennium), similar to what other states do. Our work doesn’t end on sine die,” she said, referring to the Latin term used to end each session.