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Legislators expect 35 days of fast action on big issues when they convene in February

While many Democrats are eager to tackle big-ticket issues like climate change in the approaching legislative session, legislators also have other ideas they want to push.

During short sessions, which take place every even-numbered year and last no more than 35 days, senators can introduce one piece of legislation and representatives two. Their concepts are already being submitted ahead of the session.

State Rep. Cheri Helt, a Bend Republican, is teaming up with state Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham) to ban flavored vaping products and flavored e-cigarettes, after a rash of deaths this year connected to vaping.

"Oregonians should not be a laboratory for the vaping industry to determine the dangers of these products," Helt said in September, as deaths headlined national news. "We need to learn more and have stronger legal protections to protect the lives and health of Oregonians."

In November, the Oregon Court of Appeals struck down an executive order by Gov. Kate Brown to temporarily halt the sale of flavored vaping products. The vaping ban is likely to have some support from both parties. State Reps. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas) and Rachel Prusak (D-Tualatin/West Linn), have said they would join Helt to support the ban.

GrubHub for beer?

Some lawmakers view the short session as a chance to resuscitate proposals that didn't make it through the arduous slog of this year's long session. State Rep. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale) is re-introducing legislation to stop the suspension of driver licenses for those who have unpaid traffic fines. State Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha) introduced the bill last year, but it didn't go forward.

Gorsek said that suspending licenses makes it harder for people to get to work and make enough money to pay the fine. He said people can be held accountable in other ways, such as garnishing wages or retaining tax refunds.

"This bill really is just about saying let's use other mechanisms, but let's not make it harder for those folks ... let's not make it harder for them to comply with the law," Gorsek said.

The legislation passed out of the House Judiciary committee on a 10-to-1 vote earlier this year, but it died in the budget committee.

"Lots of things, unfortunately, end up going there to die," Gorsek said.

State Rep. Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard) has two priorities this session: allowing same-day alcohol delivery and expanding access to medicine that can reduce the risk of getting HIV. For the alcohol, she envisioned something like a GrubHub but for beer, wine and hard liquor.

"You can get pot delivered to your house, but you can't get alcohol," Doherty said.

Deliverers would need a server's permit and check the purchaser's age, Doherty said. It would be optional for liquor stores and grocery stores to participate. A legislative work group will meet in January to finalize the proposal.

"What we're talking about is more, 'I'm having a Super Bowl party and I ran out of beer, so I want to order a case of beer,' that kind of thing," Doherty said.

Another of Doherty's bills would let pharmacists dispense a preventative medicine for HIV known as PrEP without a prescription from a physician — similar to how patients can now get birth control directly from a pharmacist in Oregon. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a similar bill in October.

Doherty is working with the Cascade AIDS Project, which tests thousands of people a year for the disease, to provide ID cards that show a patient has tested negative for HIV before being prescribed the medication, which can significantly reduce the risk of getting HIV, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To her, making a preventative medicine more readily available is common sense: "I come of the generation that guys that I knew, and later on women, that contracted AIDS, they died in two years. And so to have a preventative medicine is absolutely mind-boggling."

A 'nontransparent process'

In the Senate — which earlier this year saw existential tumult when Republicans decided to leave town to avoid taking votes — two proposals are turning inward, aiming to change how the Legislature functions.

State Sen. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) wants to do away with the "short session" altogether. It's a proposal that would require approval from voters. Short sessions were initiated via ballot measure in 2010 to deal with budget issues that arise between the Legislature's longer sessions, which take place in odd-numbered years. That measure also limited the length of each session.

Thatcher said lawmakers have drifted away from that initial intention and as a result Oregonians get what she described as hasty policymaking every other year. It's hard for legislators to keep up during the 35-day session and more so for the public, Thatcher said, adding "Which makes it a very non-transparent process because there's just so much happening in such a short window of time, and very quickly."

Thatcher said she is not optimistic that her proposal will pass or even get a committee hearing. But she's ardent enough that she's willing to use her one bill this session to push the idea.

"I think this is something that the people need to think about and realize that this short session was, as it was sold to us, is not what they were supporting when they passed it," she said. "And maybe shining a light on this whole issue. That's all I'm looking to do."

State Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) who leads the Democrats in the Senate, wants to amend the Constitution to shrink the number of members who have to be present to conduct business. Right now, 20 out of the 30 senators need to be there; in the House 40 of the 60 representatives must be present.

Last year, Senate Republicans fled the state to hold up voting in that chamber. The move left the Senate two short of being able to take action.


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