State government — Local legislators offer predictions, bill proposals for 2014 session

The 2014 Oregon Legislature opened its short session Monday amid a whirlwind of hearings and debates scheduled to last no more than 35 days.

The Oregon Constitution limits even-numbered year legislative sessions, with the intent for technical fixes and refinements of legislation rather than passing complicated bills. It also limits legislative members, who are only allowed to introduce two bills. This means representatives and senators will pick their proposals based on issues they want to start addressing — typically meaning the bill isn’t intended to pass but merely start working its way through the system — and bills they know can pass.

State Reps. Kim Thatcher and Jim Weidner are doing just that.

“I was trying to avoid controversy because I think in a short session it’s hard to have controversial bills, they can backfire, but then again controversy is in the eye of the beholder,” Thatcher said.

Thatcher is considering submitting a bill that would allow for increased scrutiny of regulations, licensing and fees associated with the cost of doing business.

“I think it’s kind of ambitious the way it’s written right now, but I think it’s worth looking at and breaking into more digestible parts,” she said.

She’s also proposing a bill to align state law with federal law with regard to voter identification.

“To vote in federal elections you have to produce a certain type of document, identification for no better term,” Thatcher said. “It’s basically copying and pasting the federal law into state law.”

Weidner said he tries to select bills that have a good chance at being passed. Both bills he intends to propose are one page documents.

“One is to ensure tax exempt status for museums because museums are a critical part of history of the state of Oregon. I want to make sure tax assessors don’t tax them because they have a gift shop or coffee shop and use those funds to stay open,” he said. “Especially with having the Evergreen museum right there, this would make sure they do not shut down with their financial struggles.”

The other would “allow businesses to hire returning military vets without any questions asked,” allowing private employers to give preference to veterans when hiring. “I just want to make sure they’re not open for lawsuits.”

Sen. Brian Boquist said he’ll introduce a mix of bills — one technical fix and one piece of legislation he doesn’t expect to pass.

“What we’re trying to do is pass a moratorium that limits general permits to 850 across the state (for dredge mining),” Boquist said. “When drafted the bill had a lot of technical problems. It was not clear who’s going to run it, what the penalties would be and who’s going to run it.”

He said initially when the bill came up he opposed it, but “once it’s in place we need it to work.”

The other legislation is an education funding bill, which would require the assembly to spend no less than one-third of the total budget on education and not less than 7 percent on public safety.

“There’s no chance it will ever be adopted, but there is a chance it will influence a rebalance,” Boquist said.

Sen. Larry George was unavailable for comment on the bills he plans to propose.

The consensus between legislators is that the session will be swift and will see some controversial and important issues.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some controversial things out there that will be alive and well and not set aside,” Thatcher said. “I think things like the legalization of marijuana, the discussion the (Columbia River Crossing), an Oregon only approach will be very controversial. As well as any talk about sales tax or perhaps any restructuring of the Grand Bargain.”

Weidner said he thinks health care and Cover Oregon will be one of the largest issues.

“We’ve spent about $50,000 per enrollee on a healthcare system that doesn’t work,” Weidner said. “We have to decide if we’re going further on it or turn it over to other states that have software to handle enrollment.”

But he said with respect to the CRC, it will be voted against.

“It would free a lot of money up for highway funding and make sure projects get done (such as the Newberg-Dundee bypass),” he said. “I’m quite certain 98 percent of Republicans will vote no on that. That project will be dead and that money allotted to highway projects in the state, and that’s a positive thing.”

The session is slated to end no later than March 9. Thatcher said she’s optimistic the session could end in February.

“I’m hoping, but expect it because normally the goal is to end by the end of February,” she said.

Watch for continuing coverage of the session in future editions of The Newberg Graphic and online at www.newberg

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