What do you know about the Legislature?
What do we mean by "short" session?
They gaveled in on Monday. They're constitutionally required to gavel back out around March 11. That's barely five weeks.
And note: lawmakers will be under some pressure to get out even earlier; Tuesday, March 6, is the deadline for candidates to register to run for legislative seats. Many legislators would like the lawmaking to be over before the politicking begins.
During this short session, lawmakers have less than two weeks to get a bill passed from one chamber to another (say, from the House to the Senate).
A long session can have thousands of bills. But a short session? Not so much.
Each senator can sponsor a single bill, and each member of the House gets two. Committee chairs get only three. The executive branch (the governor and the Department of Justice) get five.
Why a short session?
For most of its time as a state, The Oregon Legislature only met on odd-numbered years. And that made sense for a small-population, agricultural state that was difficult to drive across in the first half of the 20th century. But as issues became more complicated, the Legislature decided to meet every year. The even-numbered sessions — starting in 2010 — would be short, and would be designed for budget fixes and emergencies.
"I don't think there will be a lot of surprises this year," said Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward of Beaverton.
However, she said the Legislative Fiscal Office is working hard to analyze the tax cuts passed by Congress to figure out what impacts they will have on the state budget and Oregonian taxpayers. The Legislature might have to put together some bills to address impacts on those tax cuts, she said.
The big stuff last year:
Nothing was bigger than a $5.3 billion transportation package stretched over 10 years, which will see major investments in highways, transportation projects, traffic congestion and more.
Legislators also expanded Medicaid to cover Oregonians who make too much for Medicaid but who nonetheless are living in poverty. (A trio of lawmakers attempted to undo that with Measure 101, the January election issue. Voters stuck with the original plan.)
Lawmakers also raised the age to buy and possess tobacco projects from 18 to 21, and closed a $1.4 billion budget shortfall right around this time last year
Gov. Kate Brown, who gave her State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate on Monday, Feb. 5.
The governor's biggest bipartisan applause line on Monday: "The first best way to get a family out of poverty is a good-paying job."
The governor called for new investments in education and job-training for young people, including an expanded apprenticeship programs for high tech fields.
Among the people appearing to be surprised by this major policy announcement: Beaverton's Brad Avakian, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries which oversees many apprenticeship programs.
When asked if the governor coordinated with his office on that announcement, Avakian said, "No. But if the Legislature is ready to expand apprenticeships, we're there to help them."
Senate: Peter Courtney returns as Senate President. Leading the Democrats in the Senate is Sen. Ginny Burdick, whose district includes Tigard. Leading the Republicans is Sen. Jackie Winters of Salem.
House: Rep. Tina Kotek is back as Speaker of the House. Leading the Democrats is Rep. Jennifer Williams of Portland. Leading the Republicans is Rep. Mike McLane of Powell Butte.
Several local legislators have leadership roles this session.
In the House, Rep. Margaret Doherty of Tigard chairs the Education Committee. Ken Helm of Beaverton chairs the Energy and Environment Committee. Mitch Greenlick, whose district includes a portion of northeast Washington County, chairs the Health Care Committee. And Jeff Barker of Beaverton chairs the Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Susan McLain of Hillsboro is vice chair of the Agriculture and National Resources Committee; chairs the Transportation Policy Committee; and chairs the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
In the Senate, Sen. Mark Hass of Beaverton chairs the Finance and Revenue Committee. Sen. Ginny Burdick of Tigard chairs the Rules Committee. Sen. Brian Boquist, whose district includes much of central Washington County, chairs the Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
The Legislature's budget-writing body is called Ways & Means, and includes members from both chambers. Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward of Beaverton will chair the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Human Services. Sen. Betsy Johnson, whose district includes a portion of north Washington County, will chair the Transportation and Economic Development Subcommittee.
Biggest controversies dodged (possibly):
Measure 101 and the cap-and-invest bill.
If voters had said "no" to Measure 101 in January, it would have blown a hole of between $210 million and $320 million in state revenues; money that was anticipated to leverage federal funding to help the state pay for an expansion of Medicaid. About 960,000 Oregonians are on Medicaid via the Oregon Health Plan.
In fact, voters overwhelmingly said "yes." The Medicaid expansion stays in place, and the Legislatures avoided rewriting a two-year budget about one year into the process.
On cap-and-invest, Democrats — including Rep. Ken Helm of Beaverton — initially said their top priority was to pass a law that would limit the production of carbon by Oregon businesses, and would create an investment in clean energy production. Similar bills have run into opposition from Republicans and the business and agricultural communities in the past.
Could the proponents push it through a short session, knowing that they now have less than two week to get bills out of each chamber? Unknown. But some Democratic leaders this month began acknowledging that the short session is too short for so politically controversial a policy shift. (The Times editorialized last week that cap-and-invest is sound policy, but the short session is the wrong time to ram it down the opposition's throats.)
Beyond those issues, several said they think the session might lack drama. When asked about the biggest pitfalls ahead, Sen. Betsy Johnson — whose district includes a portion of northeast Washington County — shrugged. "I have no idea. I'm gonna go find out."
What's new this year?
Rob Wagner, for one. The Lake Oswegan was appointed to take the Senate seat of Tualatin resident Richard Devlin, who was named late last year to an interstate energy and wildlife compact. Wagner serves on the Lake Oswego School Board and is a vice president at Portland Community College. He's so new to the Senate, he didn't even know his committee assignments until last week (he got the Senate committees on judiciary and human services).
Wagner has worked in Salem as a lobbyist for about 20 years. "But walking into the rotunda this morning? That just felt different," he said Monday. "I know it's a cliche, but I truly felt a sense of awe."
When do voters get their say again?
Primaries are in May with a general election in November. Gov. Kate Brown has to run for re-election. All 60 seats in the House are up, as are 15 seats in the 30-member Senate.
Democrats control the governor's office and both chambers.