With a third of the session gone, the Oregon Legislature has 4,000 bills on its plate, with House Republicans using a parliamentary slow-down to delay legislation already running late because of COVID-19.
About 90 committees are scheduled to meet this week and the House and Senate have each scheduled floor sessions. A busy week, but also one that will push a big portion of the logjam into the legislative abyss.
Friday is 'do-or-die' deadline
The logjam will get looser Friday, March 19, with the first "witching hour," the legislature's self-imposed deadlines for most bills to move or die. Most policy bills that are not scheduled for a work session by Friday go into the trash can for this year's regular session.
The deadline does not affect budget bills or those in "safe harbor" committees such as Rules or Ways & Means, which are exempt from the time rules. The size of the cull won't be known until Monday, March 22, when the chief clerks of each chamber will have a list of surviving bills.
More bills will fall away on April 13, the deadline for those work sessions, where committees amend and vote on bills.
Brakes vs. no breaks
Monday was "National Napping Day," which felt appropriate for many lawmakers and observers. House Republicans again required that each bill be read out loud in its entirety, as a way of tapping the brakes on the Democratic supermajority's pace of approving their agenda.
Normally, bills are read by title only unless there is an objection. The GOP has objected each floor session.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has countered by cutting into scheduled breaks and extending evening floor sessions.
Bill for Oregon MIA advances
The first bill of the day that was read out loud had complete bipartisan support. The House unanimously approved House Bill 2700, which would include Oregonians who were listed as missing in action in wars, but whose remains were later found and returned to Oregon, among those eligible for roadside memorial signs.
The bill is being championed by veterans activist Dick Tobiason of the Bend Heroes Foundation. Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, thanked Tobiason on behalf of the Legislature for bringing the issue to them.
"They may be gone, but are not forgotten," Zika said.
The bill next goes to the Senate, where passage is expected.
About 1,000 servicemembers from Oregon remain MIA, mostly from World War II.
Power trio appears at subcommittee meeting
The three most powerful politicians in Salem appeared together — virtually — on Monday for a Joint Ways & Means Subcommittee on Education hearing.
Gov. Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Kotek spoke in support of their joint proposal for a $250 million summer learning and childcare package.
Supporters say the program will help thousands of Oregon children catch up on learning and socializing after a year of mostly virtual schooling. The legislation "will set our kids up for success by letting them be kids again, in environments that foster creativity, learning, and joy," Brown said.
Hearings on the program and other education spending will continue Wednesday.
U of O tops list of Oregon COVID-19 cases
A New York Times review of COVID-19 cases published March 2 shows 3,189 cases of the disease linked to Oregon colleges since February 2020.
The University of Oregon had the highest reported positive test count at 1,479. Oregon State is second at 787 cases and Eastern Oregon University was third at 111 cases.
The Times put an asterisk next to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, which reported 335 cases early in the pandemic. The campus includes a medical center and other facilities that serve the community.
The review compiled 535,000 cases at more than 1,900 colleges and universities. The Times estimated this as an undercount because of no standardized reporting, contact tracing or infection database for all colleges.
The Times said it had identified more than 100 campus-related COVID-19 deaths nationwide, primarily among school employees in 2020. It did not break out the deaths by state or institution.
Republicans push for Capitol reopening
Senate Republicans who staged a one-day walkout last month, and their counterparts in the House requiring the reading of bills in full, both say one of the central issues is their demand to reopen the Capitol to the public.
"What the people of Oregon want is for this Capitol to be open and to have access to in-person hearings," said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, during comments on the Senate floor last Thursday. "Many other states are already doing this with greater COVID problems than exist in Oregon today."
The Capitol has been closed for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The zip code around the Capitol has had the highest number of positive cases of any in the state. Control of the Capitol falls to the Legislature.
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