Despite contentious 2017 session, law makers came together on key policy bills

By some accounts the 2017 session was one of the most difficult and stressful on record. Tensions between the chambers, parties and varying interest groups were high.

Still, both our success and our failures can teach us valuable lessons.

In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans worked together on almost every issue. We talked to each other. We listened to each other. We sought consensus.

FILE PHOTO - Peter CourtneyWe didn't always agree. We didn't always succeed. But on three key policy bills, we brought business and labor together on what were once divisive issues. All three bills passed both chambers on wide bi-partisan votes.

House Bill 2005 requires that women and other protected classes statewide be paid the same wages for the same work as others in the same positions.

Senate Bill 828 gives workers the peace of mind of a predictable schedule by establishing scheduling standards for certain employers with 500 or more employees worldwide in the retail, hospitality or food service industries.

House Bill 3458 clears up confusion created by a Bureau of Labor and Industry ruling. It directs employers in manufacturing, seafood and food processing sectors to pay the greater of daily or weekly overtime when the employee is eligible for both in the same work week.

All three were initially introduced and supported as priority measures by labor organizations. Conversely, all three were initially vigorously opposed by employers and business groups. Two of the measures came to the Senate after bitter floor fights and mostly partisan votes in the House.

In the Senate, however, I asked the Democratic chair of the Workforce Committee to work with her Republican counterpart to come up with a consensus proposal that labor, business, Democrats and Republicans could all support. They rolled up their sleeves and worked with all the interested parties on compromise language.

Their first and most significant breakthrough came on the issue of pay equity. The amended measure passed the Senate on a remarkable unanimous vote. It went back to the House — where an earlier version had passed with the support of the Democrats and only one Republican — and was approved 58-0.

With that momentum, the Senate Workforce Committee was off and running. Predictive scheduling passed both chambers with the support of more than 75 percent of legislators. The overtime bill passed unanimously in the Senate and with the support of 51 of 60 House members.

All three were key labor priorities which won support from business groups and conservative legislators without losing any of their progressive support — and all still in the shadow of the bitter all-out war waged by labor and business on a major tax increase proposal in last fall's campaigns.

All it took was a belief that we could find common ground and a refusal to give up until we had found it.

It is possible our bipartisan efforts on these issues can provide a blueprint for solving even bigger problems in the future. After all, it was a bipartisan workgroup which engaged with stakeholders and came up with a health care funding solution. It was a bipartisan committee that traveled the state, engaged stakeholders and the public, and crafted a major transportation plan.

We know how to find solutions. We proved that in 2017. We just need to muster the collective will to use the same methods to solve the state's biggest problems. Maybe even one we have been grappling with for nearly 30 years — enacting an effective and sustainable funding source for K-12 schools.

Sen. Peter Courtney is president of the Oregon Senate. He represents District 11, which includes Salem, Gervais and Woodburn.

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