Johnson: Walkout far from legislative session's top takeaway
There was much more to the 2019 legislative session than a Republican walkout and a senator mouthing off about hell, bachelors and firearms.
Personally, I won't forget the indignant voice of a 10-year-old girl who dropped the F-bomb six times in a voice mail she left me demanding I vote for House Bill 3427.
She said she was a "constitution" of mine — she must have meant "constituent." I later called an education lobbyist and told him if they were going to have students contact legislators, they could at least give them some basic lessons in how to communicate properly.
As it is, I voted for HB 3427 — called the Student Success Act — which could prove ironic in the case of my young caller. No legislation can guarantee a student success.
I voted for this $2 billion tax on gross commercial sales after I was reassured that the money wouldn't be used as a bailout for the $27 billion shortfall in the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). Shortly thereafter, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1049 to help ease the pension crisis by diverting a portion of public employees' retirement contributions to paying down PERS.
But SB 1049 hasn't popped up on many lists of legislative accomplishments. It was not a popular bill. It angered public employee unions who were counting on Democrats to protect their pensions. It angered Republicans who didn't think the bill went far enough.
Last month, public employee unions negotiated new contracts that could increase pay up to 15% over the next two years. Are we back where we started? Will the young girl who insisted I vote for the Student Success Act find herself as an adult paying for PERS, while all around her the state's public infrastructure crumbles, and we tolerate serious crime because we can't afford a criminal justice system?
PERS is complicated. Many people don't realize how this crushing debt will shape their daily lives. The PERS crisis is every bit as real as climate change.
The Republican walkout on the cap-and-trade bill (HB 2020) was an awakening for people who support their families in the natural resource economy. Normally they are trying to sweep a living out of the ground. Suddenly, they found themselves targeted by a tax directed at working-class people.
Cap-and-trade looked like a scheme to cap carbon emissions, tax the excess, then give the money to environmental justice groups. That won't solve climate change, anymore than taxing gross receipts can guarantee student success, or nibbling at retirement funds will fix PERS.
Long after the walkout has been forgotten, Oregonians will be living with the consequences and contradictions of bills passed in the 2019 session.
By approving SB 870, Oregon joined the National Popular Vote Compact to abandon the Electoral College, an institution that has endured for more than two centuries. Supporters claimed they wanted every vote to count — just not on their bill. They declined to refer SB 870 to the voters, which is why I voted no.
The Legislature also ignored voter mandates on the death penalty, adult prosecution of violent juveniles and driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants:
SB 1013 eviscerates what is left of the death penalty. The bill was hailed nationally by death penalty opponents, who have made no secret their next target is to abolish life without parole, which they call "death by incarceration."
SB 1008 overturned a portion of Measure 11 that required juveniles 15 years and older, accused of violent crimes, to be handled in adult court. We're not talking about schoolyard bullying here. These are serious crimes involving physical cruelty, even homicide. Serious crime deserves serious treatment. Now a judge can keep these offenders in juvenile court, away from public scrutiny.
HB 2015 gives driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Only five years ago, Oregon voters soundly rejected such a measure. By attaching an "emergency clause" to this bill, the Legislature prevented voters from referring the bill for a public vote.
The 10-year-old girl who called me doesn't know it, but she has a lot more to be concerned about than student success.
Betsy Johnson represents Senate District 16, including Clatsop, Columbia, and parts of Multnomah, Washington and Tillamook counties, in the Oregon Legislature. She lives in Scappoose.
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