Who's who as Legislature reconvenes
The Oregon Legislature meets each January; for short sessions in even-numbered years, and for long sessions in odd-numbered years.
Buckle up. This is 2019.
Gov. Kate Brown won what is likely to be her last election in Oregon and has four years to set her legacy as governor. Democrats control both the House and Senate, with large enough margins — called "supermajorities" — that they could raise revenue without Republican assistance.
The December revenue forecast for the state is more by more than $75 million in the general fund — that's over what was predicted in August — but state economists have been predicting a slowdown, or even a full-fledged recession, by 2019 or 2020.
Also, lawmakers have yet to figure out how to address a funding shortfall of about 41 billion in the 2019-21 biennium — Oregon sets its budget every two years. That shortfall includes an $830 million gap in Medicaid funding.
The first gavel falls and the Legislature convenes on Tuesday, Jan. 22. In this issue, and online, we offer a look at the Oregon Legislature, the governor's agenda, and some the biggest issues facing the state of Oregon.
Gov. Kate Brown won her re-election bid in November, which means she has four years to finalize her legacy in Oregon.
She got the ball rolling with an aspirational budget proposal that would require the Legislature to raise about $2 billion. How? She's left that up to them.
In every odd-numbered year, the Oregon governor sets a budget proposal for the coming two-year period. The Legislature counters with its own budget, usually in March, and much of the rest of the legislative session is taking up haggling between the two priorities. Budgets must be set by the end of June.
The Legislature's budget-writing body is called Ways & Means. It consists of members of the House and Senate, and usually that means two co-chairs; one from each chamber.
But this year, Senate President Peter Courtney split the gavel duties between two senators.
One of the co-chairs is Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward of Beaverton, who is both a lawmaker and a physician, known for having a key understanding of health care policy issues.
The other is Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, whose district includes a portion of northern Washington County. Johnson represents a conservative, rural and forested district that stretches from Columbia County to the coast. She has an independent streak and often bucks the priorities of her own caucus.
Rep. Dan Rayfield, Democrat of Corvallis, is the House's co-chair.
This year, voters gave Democrats "supermajorities" in both the House and Senate. That means lawmakers can raise taxes and other types of revenue without asking for Republican support from across the aisle.
Washington County has been — and remains — a hub of government leadership in the state. The director of the Oregon Health Authority lives in Sherwood. State Treasurer Tobias Read is a Beaverton resident. The former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, who stepped down last week, was Beaverton's Brad Avakian.
Sen. Ginny Burdick, whose district includes Tigard, returns as the leader of the Oregon Senate Democrats' caucus.
Most of the roll-up-your-sleeves work of the Legislature happens in committees, and Washington County has more than its share of committee chairs.
Local lawmakers holding the gavel include
n Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha chairs the House Business and Labor Committee.
n Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, chairs the House Health Care Committee, as well as the House Conduct Committee. Greenlick's district includes a swath of northeast Washington County including the Bethany area.
n Rep. Margaret Doherty, D-Tigard, chairs the House Education Committee.
n Rep. Ken Helm, a Democrat whose district includes Cedar Hills and Rock Creek, chairs the House Energy and Environment Committee.
n Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, co-chairs the Education Subcommittee of the budget-writing Ways & Means Committee.
n Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, chairs the Senate Business and General Government Committee. He also co-chairs the Joint Legislative Committee on Information Management and Technology.
n Sen. Rob Wagner, a Democrat whose district includes Tualatin, chairs the Senate Education Committee. He also co-chairs the General Government Subcommittee of Ways & Means.
n Sen. Mark Hass of Beaverton chairs the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee — while Ways & Means gets to "spend" the state's money, it's the revenue committee that figures out how to acquire the money in the first place. Hass also chairs the Senate's Special Committee on Conduct. Plus, he co-chairs the Joint Committee on Tax Expenditures.
n Sen. Ginny Burdick, a Democrat whose district includes Tigard, chairs the Senate Rules Committee. She also co-chairs the Joint Committee on Capitol Culture.
n And the Senate's Joint Committee on Legislative Audits is an all-Washington County triumvirate of Sens. Johnson and Steiner Hayward, along with Sen. Kim Thatcher, a Republican whose district includes Sherwood and King City.
Youths as focus of legislation
Gov. Kate Brown's budget includes a record expansion of school funding. Under her proposed $83.5 billion two-year budget, school kids would have smaller classes and more teachers. She said that, during the past three decades, Oregon has ignored education spending and today, education is underfunded by $1 billion per year.
To counter that, she is proposing spending $800 million of her new education dollars on bolstering the K-12 system, expanding the school year to 180 days school year and limiting class sizes for kindergarten through third grade.
The proposed budget opens up 10,000 new state-funded preschool slots and dedicates $4 million for state visits to homes with young children. The governor also has made career training a larger part of public education, proposing an additional $133 million goes to career technical education programs in public schools and $70 million goes to colleges.
In 2016 and '17, an ad hoc transportation committee was created and toured the state, seeking transportation solutions from rural, suburban and urban portions of Oregon. That committee put together the successful $5.3 billion comprehensive transportation package, which passed with bipartisan support in summer 2018.
That's the same model used this past year for the Joint Committee on Student Success. Two local senators — Democrat Mark Hass and Republican Kim Thatcher — have taken part in the statewide tour. Topics have included Oregon's very low percentage of students who graduate on time; only 75 percent of Oregon public high school students graduate on time, while the average rate nationwide is 84 percent.
The joint committee is expected to present a series of bills in the 2019 legislative session based on this summer's state tour.
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