Limit the mischief from short legislative session
Take heart, job creation advocates. Three dozen state legislative bodies convene in January and six more in February, including Oregon’s. And they all, no doubt, will be hiring aides and analysts.
We are being facetious, but truth be told, we sometimes think more jobs are created through direct legislative hiring than through legislative attempts to spur private-sector hiring.
Oregon’s even-year sessions, a recent innovation, are limited to 35 days. That seems ample in a year when 75 of its 90 members are up for election, a distraction of no small dimension. Wyoming, Arkansas, New Mexico and North Carolina will limit their 2014 sessions in similar fashion.
At the other end of the spectrum, sessions in the Rust Belt states of Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio will run up to 11 months, with Pennsylvania close behind. That strikes us as a terrible idea.
So, what do Oregon’s 90 lawmakers hope to accomplish during their dash toward mid-March?
Most important is that they resist the urge to jam many laws through a short session with inadequate time for full debate and careful consideration. They need to balance the budget, handle time-sensitive emergencies and set the agenda for a full 2015 legislative session.
The Democratic majorities in the 16-14 Senate and 34-26 House are hoping to cover a loophole in gun registration laws, provided Betsy Johnson of rural Columbia County doesn’t once again knot the count at 15-15 on the Senate side. They want to span the Columbia River with a new bridge, provided fiscal opposition in Oregon and political objections in Washington don’t once again sink them. And they are looking to cover their tracks on the Cover Oregon debacle, possibly by dumping their sky’s-the-limit software for something more down to earth.
Overhaul the tax code? Not a chance. In today’s political climate, that’s too ambitious even for a full-length session.
But legalize marijuana? Expand neighborhood access to hard liquor? Apparently that’s fair game even in an abbreviated election-year session.
In addition to leading the gun registration campaign, it seems Eugene’s Sen. Floyd Prozanski will be asking lawmakers to craft a marijuana measure for presentation to the electorate. We understand his reasoning. If the Legislature doesn’t put a measure on the ballot, Oregon’s legions of pot proponents will, and their version undoubtedly will be more sweeping.
Still, we think lawmakers would be best advised to stand aside and trust the judgment of Oregon voters. In our view, the jury is still out — way out. We’d prefer to see how marijuana legalization plays out in Colorado and Washington before considering such a plunge.
A similar strategy debate involves distilled spirits, long under total rule of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Fearing that private grocer interests will seize control of liquor sales via the ballot box, the OLCC now proposes to allow sale of state-owned distilled spirits in grocery stores larger than 10,000 square feet.
Lawmaking in Oregon often involves a legislative tug-of-war with forces that have, or may, saddle us with poorly written initiative petitions, and these debates about intoxicants are just the latest examples.