For much of Oregon’s history, a biennial legislative session was enough to attend to the matters of the state. Every odd year, elected representatives, lobbyists and citizens would meet at the Capitol to debate and enact law while developing and approving a budget.
In 2010, voters approved a Senate resolution to create a 35-day special session in even years with the explicit purpose of making necessary adjustments to the budget or addressing unforeseen consequences of previously passed legislation.
So here we are, two weeks away from the fourth such “short session” in state history — and a politically fraught one at that. While the U.S. Congress can’t figure out whether shutting down the federal government is an acceptable way to settle a dispute or not, citizens are feeling an ever stronger push toward one partisan camp or another.
Meanwhile it’s an election year in Oregon, with Gov. Kate Brown campaigning for her first full term and Rep. Knute Buehler leading the field of Republicans looking to challenge her. While much of our political energy is spent watching D.C., Oregon state politics is at a crossroads of a kind in 2018. Next month’s short session will mark the first few steps down that road.
So what should we expect of our elected leaders in Salem this February? Here are a few pointers.
• Bipartisan or bust
While debating new rules and laws during a full session requires a fair amount of posturing, party line toeing and negotiation, we feel that should be set aside in the short session.
A legislative committee convened in 2017 to examine how the sessions have been functioning since 2012 and made the suggestion that any bill should be required to be sponsored by a representative of both parties to be considered. The concept wasn’t enacted, but we think it’s a good one and should be followed.
It makes us nervous to see a list of goals including a Clean Energy Jobs Bill and gun regulations coming before a body with just over a month to debate and enact law. We’ve previously written that the pursuit of meaningful PERS reform this session is doubtful, but while politically difficult it would at least meet the principal of why these short sessions exist in the first place: Taking action early so that future budget problems don’t spiral out of control.
• Deal with Measure 101 fallout
Oregon voters will decide Tuesday how they feel about the Medicaid funding tax on Measure 101, which will have a major effect on how legislators will spend their in-session time. If the temporary health care taxes are approved by voters, it’s a tip to legislators that voters remain supportive of their work, and that health insurance for all Oregonians is something we’re willing to pay a little extra for.
However, if the measure fails, legislators will be sent scrambling back to the Capitol with some difficult decisions to make. Money will have to be found, or cuts will have to be made. More than likely, it’ll require some of each.
• No politics
Gov. Kate Brown is Oregon’s top government official, so she should be able to guide legislative action during the 30 days.
She told the EO’s Capital Bureau reporter this month that she hoped to tackle gun control, affordable housing, PERS paydown, opioid epidemic and state procurement practices. We’re not sure how many, if any, of those are possible, and the likelihood goes down if Measure 101 goes down, too.
But we’re sure that Brown and Democratic lawmakers will try to hang some tough votes on likely Republican challenger Knute Buehler.
The same rules stand for Buehler and the Republicans, too — who will likely look to the session as a chance to gather ammunition to use against Brown.
All is fair in love and war, but we hope the politicking is kept to a minimum and that for these 30 days legislators keep their eye on what’s best for Oregon. Once it’s over, then we can let the campaigning begin.