A primer as the 2019 Legislature begins session
Welcome to our "back to school" issue for the Legislature.
In Oregon, lawmakers meet in "regular" sessions each odd-numbered year, like this, and in short, budget-oriented sessions in even-numbered years.
This year, they will gather on Jan. 14 for organizational issues like the swearing-in of members. The real first day of the session is Jan. 22, and the pace will be hectic until policy committees close in late May. Most of the real work of the Legislature happens in committees.
April 9 is the deadline for committees to hold work sessions on first-chamber measures. That is, for the House to hold hearings on House-originated bills, and the Senate for Senate bills.
May 24 is the deadline for second-chamber measures — like the House discussing a Senate-originated bill.
This does not apply to Ways & Means, which is the Legislature's all-important budget-writing body. It consists of House and Senate members and, this year, there are three co-chairpersons (there's usually two). Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) is the House's chief budget-writer. In the Senate, they are Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward of Beaverton and Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scapooose. Steiner Hayward, a physician, is an expert in Human Services issues, while Johnson has expertise in areas such as transportation.
Crafting a two-year budget is, at the end of the day, the most important thing the Legislature does.
Want to know who your legislators are? You have a representative in the House and a Senator. Go to www.oregonlegislature.gov and look for "Find Your District and Legislators" on the right-hand side. Enter your address and voila.
The biggest issues of the session will include funding for K-12 public schools — a committee representing House and Senate members, Republicans and Democrats, has toured the state for much of the past year, hearing from educators, students, families, activists and community leaders.
The committee is expected to unveil some major legislation in 2019.
Other big-ticket items on the agenda: liability for the Public Employees Retirement System, known as PERS; affordable housing; firearms safety; and long-term funding for the Oregon Health Plan.
Democrats have "super majorities" in both chambers, meaning they can increase revenue without Republican help.
Democrat Tina Kotek is in her fifth term as speaker of the House and Democrat Peter Courtney is in his 10th term as Senate president. Gov. Kate Brown, also a Democrat, won her re-election bid in November and will have four years to solidify her legacy in Oregon.
The Senate Majority Leader is Ginny Burdick, whose district includes Tigard.
Our newspaper puts a great deal of emphasis on the start of the legislative session because, no matter who you are, lawmakers this year will address an issue that's near and dear to your heart. Affordable housing? Education funding? Gun safety? Whatever you care about, the issue likely will come up. And unlike most places on the planet, lawmakers in Oregon are actually available to their constituents. They hold town halls. They accept letters and calls — we've often listed their contacts on our Viewpoint page, which typically appears on Page A4.
In Oregon, you — yes, you — can move the needle on issues that matter to you. But the game is played only by the people who show up. You have to get on your lawmaker's radar. And, fortunately, you can.
Our coverage will continue through "sine die" — Latin for "without a day," it means the last official drop of the gavel, signaling the end of the session for 2019.
It's going to be an interesting ride.