SALEM — State lawmakers will return to the Capitol in Salem on Monday, June 21, with an agenda fully reloaded by legislative leaders.
Most House and Senate members were pleasantly surprised to be told June 17 they could go home and not be back for work until June 21. Both chambers continued committee meetings, but those could be done virtually, as they have been since the Capitol closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic.
Lawmakers still have some heavy legislative lifting left before they can go home. The end of every session focuses on pieces of the state budget, which move through in multi-billion dollar chunks at a time.
One allocation that has caused higher education officials around the state to hold their breath in the past is the capital construction bond authorizations for universities. This year's projected $442.8 million bond package for seven state four-year college campuses is in Senate Bill 5505.
It includes $13.8 million to build a new Student Success Center at Oregon State University-Cascades in Bend. Eastern Oregon University is slated to receive just over $27.8 million for the renovation of Loso Hall and just under $18.3 million for renovation and seismic retrofitting of Inlow Hall.
In the past, tight budgets have pitted schools against each other, with Brown or the Legislature switching projects and funding around up until the last minute. With state coffers extremely full for the moment, the package is expected to pass as-is this week.
The House and Senate are expected back in Salem on Sept. 20 for a special session to approve the long-delayed maps for new legislative and congressional districts to be used in the 2022 election. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, says she plans on a short session focused on redistricting, without lawmakers wandering into other policy areas. The 2021 regular session was hamstrung by pandemic protocols and slowed by partisan parliamentary moves. Some lawmakers have suggested the special session could include a catch-up on areas such as campaign finance reform that got short-shrift because of tight schedules and big agendas.
Kotek said those efforts will have to wait for another time, most likely the 35-day short session of the Legislature early next year.
Dollar details to come
More than 78% of Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 107 in November 2020, amending the state constitution to explicitly allow regulation of campaign finances. A 1997 voter measure placing caps on giving was upended by the Oregon Supreme Court's ruling that it ran afoul of the broad interpretation of free speech guarantees that go beyond even the U.S. Constitution. Oregon remained one of five states without contribution limits. But how much is too much bogged down placing numbers on the limits during the 2021 session as competing visions stalled amid the flood of legislation.
“Something as comprehensive as what was being talked about is going to be really difficult to pull off,” Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego said last week. Legislative leaders say they will try again next year.
Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen appeared Thursday for a final time during the 2021 session at a virtual meeting of the Subcommittee on COVID-19. Allen said OHA was happy to report that half of the 4.24 million Oregon residents are now fully vaccinated. As of June 18, the state reported 68.5% of eligible adults had received at least one vaccine shot. When over 70% have one shot statewide, Gov. Kate Brown has promised to lift nearly all remaining pandemic restrictions. Allen told the panel that OHA remains concerned about virus infections spreading rapidly in counties with low vaccination rates once the statewide limits are off.
OHA said June 18 that 51,616 people need to get a first shot of vaccine in order to pass the statewide 70% mark. Counties can move into the lowest level of restriction earlier by getting one shot into 65% of residents.
There are 15 counties that have put a shot into less than half their eligible adult population. Some of the counties with the lowest percentages are sparsely populated, such as Lake, Malheur, Gilliam and Harney. From the standpoint of sheer numbers, the biggest unvaccinated pools of people are in two populous southwest counties. Jackson is 24,108 short of 65%, while Douglas is 20,291 from the mark. Third is Umatilla County, in the northeast, which needs 16,173 more shots.
Going, going ... ?
Under the constitution, the Legislature must adjourn no later than next Sunday, Jan. 27, at 11:59 p.m. How much sooner they will wrap up is part of a rumor mill hobbled by the lack of opportunity for lawmakers, staff, lobbyists, journalists, activists and others to trade information in the Capitol hallways.
The legislature's computer system shows bills scheduled for floor votes in both chambers on Monday and Tuesday. On Friday was one interesting item of interest: Senate Concurrent Resolution 24 was scheduled for a hearing and work session in the Senate Rules Committee at 9 a.m. on June 22. From there it could swiftly move to the floors of both chambers.
Despite its random numbering, this resolution by this time of the year is the favorite of nearly all involved. It is the final piece of legislation that lawmakers will vote on in the 2021 regular session.
It calls for adjournment "sine die," Legislaturespeak for "without future date."