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Despite bounty of drama, session proved productive


The 2019 Oregon Legislative Assembly accomplished something few if any of its predecessors did: It became famous for not meeting. That’s too bad, because in some ways, this year’s session was one of Oregon’s most remarkable in terms of actual achievement.

Guest Writer

Randy Stapilus Longtime reporter and editor Randy Stapilus runs the Ridenbaugh Press, a Pacific Northwest publishing house, from his Carlton home. He has authored a long list of books on his own, focusing primarily on politics, history and journalism, in addition to shepherding books into print for others. He follows politics in all three Northwest states and shares the resulting insights through columns and newsletters.

The great interregnum at the end — the period when the Senate could not meet for lack of quorum, after a walkout staged by Senate Republicans — amounted to little more than holiday-season fireworks. It followed significant activity that, in most respects, attracted far less attention across the state.

That a GOP walkout would garner such notoriety and deliver such impact — especially since walkouts of this kind are not unprecedented for either party —   would not have seemed especially likely as the session began. This was the first session in a long time, after all, with Democrats holding supermajorities in both chambers, giving them the ability to pass almost anything as long as they could assemble a quorum — that is, enough members on the floor to hold a valid vote.

Since there were just enough Republicans in the Senate to prevent a quorum from materializing, should they depart en masse, that represented the last desperate maneuver they could take to stop something they really, really opposed. That something turned out to be the Democratic Party’s cap and tradeĀ climate change initiative, though party leaders belatedly confessed, post walkout, they didn’t have sufficient votes to pass it anyway.

At the beginning of the session, my speculation in this space  was that the measure, which has been proposed and failed in several previous sessions, would return. I said, “A planned ‘cap and invest’ bill has been in development for weeks, and may be one of the hottest debate topics early in the session.”

Well, I was half right.

It stirred intense controversy, but the controversy occurred at the end rather than the beginning. That’s because majority Democrats opted to first enact a $2 billion public education infusion, built around a new business tax.

When Senate Republicans sought to block the climate bill by fleeing to Idaho, the back-and-forth became so bitter that Sen. Brian Boquist of Dallas made a series of statements intemperate enough to spur a move toward disciplinary action.

The AWOL senators returned barely in time to allow for important votes on budgeting and other matters, as the Legislature faced a mandatory June 30 deadline. it made for a rushed close, to the point where the Senate was forced to vote on 105 bills on its last full day.

Don’t be surprised if there’s a move sometime soon for Oregon to join other state legislatures in requiring only a simple majority of members to be present. That would require a constitutional amendment, but not be unmanageable.

It might help to clarify here an Oregon legislative oddity: A quorum requires two-thirds of a chamber’s membership, or 66.7%, but a supermajority only three-fifths, or 60%. Most people in most places might reverse those numbers.

In this case, barely a third of one chamber of the Legislature held the state and its budget hostage, a situation many people may not want to see repeated. For all the attention that drew, quite a bit of substantial legislation did win passage, though, especially during the first half of the session.

Back in January, I also speculated that Democrats, now in solid control, would use their dominance to pass a wish list of measures. With few exceptions — cap and trade being one and gun safety legislation another — that happened. Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick credited the assembly with passing a string of Democratic “holy grail items” — a reasonable description.

Oregon public schools got a massive budget increase. It was less than some advocates wanted, but more than many of them expected.

A bill expanding paid family leave was approved. So were a series of restrictions on landlords, limiting their ability to impose rent increases and evictions.

Rule changes allowing for denser and thus more affordable housing cleared the Legislature as well. So did measures to increase regulation of oil and diesel usage and motor vehicle disassembly, among a long string of new environmental measures.

The majority Democrats went on to push through pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots and drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants. They also sent to the voters a proposal to increase cigarette taxes to a level roughly matching those of neighboring Washington and California.

Party leaders had been reluctant for years to enact any substantive limitations on campaign contributions, often citing the fact the Oregon Constitution would have to be amended to make it stick. This year, they signed off on a measure establishing new limits, which will be presented to voters in the form of a constitutional amendment.

Portland attorney Jason Kafoury, a long-time campaign finance activist, said the proposal seemed dead at one point, then sailed to passage. Terming it “an amazing accomplishment,” Kafoury said it was “the first time the Legislature has done anything on campaign finance reform in my lifetime.”

The session was notable for odds and ends, too, including a couple that depend on what happens elsewhere around the country.

One would set Oregon on permanent daylight saving time, subject to federal approval. Another would commit Oregon’s electoral college votes to whatever presidential candidate won the national popular vote, subject to enough other states’ agreement.

Some legislative sessions come and go with few ripples in the pond, triggering little recollection of whatever emotion or substance surfaced. This was not one of those.


Don Dix

From the article -- 'Another would commit Oregon’s electoral college votes to whatever presidential candidate won the national popular vote, subject to enough other states’ agreement.'

So, no matter which candidate received the most Oregon votes for president, Oregon's EC votes would go to the winner of the popular vote. Under those circumstances, why even vote if Cal. and NY can skew the results? Those 2 states are the only reason Hillary had more national votes.

This 'idea' effectively eliminates Oregon's chance to independently choose. It also becomes a way to eliminate why the EC was set up long ago, that being a compromise with less populous states to guard against larger states determining the outcome of presidential elections by sheer numbers.

Shouldn't Oregon voters should decide the proper path for the EC votes (instead of one party's manipulation)? Sour grapes from 2016 seems to have made some very 'bitter whine'!

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