Our opinion: February's short legislative session should focus on compromise, cooperation
Communications and compromise should be the watchwords for the 2020 legislative session, which begins Tuesday, Feb. 1.
The Oregon Legislature meets for long sessions in odd-numbered years and short-sessions in even-numbered years. This session begins Feb. 1 and is guaranteed to end March 7, regardless of what the lawmakers do — or don't — accomplish. We urge the Democrats in control of both chambers, and the governorship, to concentrate on fixing what's broken, not reaching for the stars.
We're now in the third excruciating year of this pandemic. Bills to get us through this onslaught make sense: job-training bills to boost employment, and bills to aid the pandemic's front-line workers. Those seem like they could, and should, garner bipartisan support.
Bills that reach for the grandest of liberal dreams are inappropriate for a short session and should wait for the 2023 long session.
There are two things for Democrats to remember: Their leadership is in tatters, and they've got Republicans in both chambers who have shown they know how to compromise. The last special session of December proved that, when both sides agreed on the bills needed, legislators were able to gavel in the session, pass them quickly, and gavel out before the sun set. Both sides got wins. That's good politics.
Republicans used walkouts in 2019 to stop Democrats from addressing climate-change legislation, and the GOP walkouts of 2020 stopped that disastrous session before it even began. (Oregon's Constitution requires two-thirds attendance — 40 in the House and 20 in the Senate — to do any business.)
Republicans could do that again in February. That fulcrum — remember, the session must end in 35 days — gives them tremendous leverage in a short session. They also could require a full reading of bills, rather than a brief shorthand description of them, to slow things down. Former House Republican leader Christine Drazan did just that in 2021, creating a massive backlog of bills.
So Dems need the GOP, more so during short sessions.
As for Democratic leadership, Gov. Kate Brown and Senate President Peter Courtney both leave their offices at the end of this year. Speaker of the House Tina Kotek has given up her seat to run for governor. House Democratic Leader Barbara Smith Warner is leaving that post. The longest-serving Democratic boss in either chamber is Sen. Rob Wagner, and he's only been Senate Democratic leader since 2021.
Republican Senate Leader Tim Knopp says he wants to limit the bills heard to budget-related, technical fixes and emergencies. Given the tight time restraints, he's probably right. Those bills, plus bills that will ease the burden of the pandemic on Oregonians, have a good shot at sailing through this session. Controversial bills probably don't.
The same goes for the GOP. Those bills that stir up the most passion from the party's right wing won't stand any chance in a short session, so leave them out.
We'll count this as a successful legislative session if all sides negotiate, communicate and cooperate. And leave the burley brawls over beloved liberal or conservative outliers to the next long session, where they belong.
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