It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Until the gavel fell this afternoon, it was unclear to many if lawmakers would be able to wrap up the legislative session this week.

So, will they?


Co-Speaker of the House Bruce Hanna adjourned the afternoon session until 10 a.m. Monday,  which means representatives won’t be meeting Friday to vote on bills.

One of the major sticking points remains the agreement on the state’s public safety budget.

House Democratic spokesman Geoff Sugerman said the House has finished hearing most of the bills. But, he said, the Senate has catching up to do.

The Senate will meet on Friday and hear about 30 bills.

Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, disagreed with Sugerman’s take that the Senate is playing catchup. She said the after several days of political maneuvering on the House side, they need some time to “cool off.”

She also said part of the reason the House takes so long is, “they all feel the need to do a floor speech on every bill.”

Locally, the OSU-Cascades bill, which would authorize a grant to buy the university a new graduate school building, still waits in a subcommittee.

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Sponsored by Whisnant

Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, had a smile on his face after the House session met on Wednesday morning.

Three of the bills he pushed hard all session passed.

His friend and colleague, Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, went up to him in the hallway and declared Whisnant the most “effective lawmaker in the place.”

House Bill 3623, which extends the Deschutes Water Mitigation Program, sailed through the House.

House Bill 3684 passed after several attempts. It would create a “Keep Kids Safe” license plate. Any profits from selling the plates would go to help the local Commissions on Children and Families.

And House Bill 3487 would require fees increased by  state agencies to be reviewed and approved by the Legislature. Basically, it puts more restrictions on when agencies can increase fees.

All of the bills now head to the Senate floor and need the governor’s signature before becoming law.

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Tuxedo Tuesday and Day of Reason

Republican lawmaker Patrick Sheehan, of Clackamas, sported a tuxedo on the House floor today.

He was joined by a few other lawmakers who replaced their usual suits with the fancier attire. The freshman lawmaker said the outfit was meant to remind lawmakers of the importance of being civil to one another.

It came on the same day the governor signed a proclamation marking June 21 “A Day of Reason” in Oregon.

And they both came on a day that was expected to be contentious, especially on the House floor.

Lawmakers were tasked with passing a package of 14 education related reform bills. The passage of the package was the result of behind-closed door negotiations and the bills included priorities for both parties as well as the governor.

One bill sends $25 million more to the K-12 budget, another helps school districts access funding for all-day kindergarten. One would make the superintendent of public instruction a position appointed by the governor instead of through elections.

The bills did pass, but not without fierce debate and more than one raised voice.

But at least Sheehan can go back to wearing a suit tomorrow.

Or, he said, maybe it will be a wetsuit Wednesday.

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Sine die

The Latin phrase for the end of the session is sine die – meaning adjournment.

But when will this legislative session adjourn?

Lawmakers have started thanking their staffers on the House and Senate floor for their time.

And staffers throughout the buildings have started placing bets.

But the conversations surrounding the end of session still seems to start with, “I heard …”

We know one of the major sticking points – the Department of Corrections budget and filling a $21 million hole in the budget. Republicans and Democrats are working mainly behind the scenes hashing out scenarios to fill the hole.

So, when will the session end?

Well, I heard … early next week, by Tuesday afternoon.

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Dr. No or not so much

Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed the first bill of the session Tuesday.

Once given the nickname “Dr. No” for vetoing bundles of bills, the late-in-the session disapproval marks a change indicative of the governor’s third term.

This session, with a 30-30 split in the House and a narrow Democratic margin in the Senate, has been one about both parties being forced to play together. And many Republicans have spent the session speaking highly of the governor.

The bill, House Bill 2212, would have stopped  floral facilitators from charging local florists over a certain amount, had Republican opposition and Democratic support.

“Because a court would likely find Enrolled House Bill 2212 to be unconstitutional, I am returning it unsigned and disapproved,” the governor’s letter to the House co-chairs said.



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Smarts in the Capitol

Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, left his small hometown of Condon, Ore. to study agriculture at Oregon State University. He went on to get his law degree at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, studied journalism at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and later secured a master’s in international affairs from the University of Arkansas.

A study done by The Chronicle of Higher Education showed that McLane and Whisnant are joined by other Oregon lawmakers, who on average, have more formal education than their counterparts in other states.

In fact, 84.5 percent of Oregon lawmakers attended college and have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 74.7 percent of lawmakers overall.

The University of Oregon has the most legislative alumni, with 15 current lawmakers having received their degree from the school.

Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, didn’t get her bachelor’s degree from U of O, but did do some post-graduate work at the school after double majoring in hotel and restaurant management and accounting at the University of Denver.

At the bottom of the list of 15 of the most attended schools by Oregon lawmakers is Harvard University. Three people went there.

Bend Representative Jason Conger started out as a community college student at the College of the Redwoods, received his bachelor’s in political science from Cal State Humboldt  and finished up at Harvard Law School, where he received his law degree.

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New bottle bill signed by governor

Forty years ago, when lawmakers first signed Oregon’s bottle bill – the first in the nation – into law, they couldn’t have predicted the rise of the energy drink or vitamin-infused water.

Lawmakers have said for several sessions the bottle bill was showing signs of age. Today, the governor fixed that by signing an overhaul of the bill into law, which would cover different types of containers, including for some  sport drinks and energy drinks.

Rep. Ben Cannon, D-Portland, said the bottle bill is about the culture of Oregon and about who we are as Oregonians.

He also joked that the bottle bill has been called the “holy grail” of politics and perhaps next session, he would go after the beer tax.

Here are highlights of the bottle bill overhaul:

The new bill would expand the deposit to cover more beverage containers.

It will increase the deposit from 5 to 10 cents, if the redemption rate is below 80 percent for two years and no sooner than 2017.

And it creates a pilot project for a large redemption center, larger than what is currently allowed under law.


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Republican votes for party, not conscience

His name is on the bill as a co-sponsor: Rep. Bob Jenson, a Republican from Pendleton.

But when the chance came to send the bill — which would allow illegal immigrant students a chance to pay in-state tuition at Oregon universities — to the House floor for a vote, Jenson did not support it.

It was a move, he said, that made him “ashamed of himself.”

He believes, he said, of giving students who have lived in Oregon for at least three years a chance to attend a university at a more affordable price.

Now, Oregon’s universities consider students who are here illegally out-of-state residents, which means that they must pay about $17,600 more in tuition every year at the University of Oregon than their in-state counterparts.  Earlier,  Senators passed what’s known as the tuition equity bill.

But on the House side, the bill could not receive a hearing. So Democrats used a discharge petition. They needed 31 lawmakers’ signatures for the bill to bypass the committee and go directly to the House floor for a vote.

On Tuesday, that didn’t happen and at 5 p.m. the bill died. This is not the first session lawmakers have tried to tackle the issue.

Jenson said he had to stick to the Republican caucas’ wishes and not sign the petition after a promise he made to his caucas to stick with them on policy votes.

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Not so cooped up

Freshman lawmaker Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte,  told his colleagues  on Monday that given his position in the “pecking order” he would be introducing a bill that would give egg-laying hens more room.

“I’m not going to crack jokes or scramble issues,” he said. “This is a straightforward issue.”

McLane said later he had more chicken puns ready to fly, but decided to keep his introduction to Senate Bill 805 short.

The bill would use $65,000 out of the general fund to go to the Department of Agriculture to regulate the confinement of Oregon’s egg laying hens by commercial farms and operators.

The bill now awaits the governor’s scrawl, er, signature.

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Lawmakers keep pushing for Deschutes Water Mitigation program

Lawmakers and environmental advocates are still working to pass a bill they hope will protect the Deschutes River Basin and help Central Oregon continue to grow.

The continuation of the Deschutes Water Mitigation Program was Rep. Gene Whisnant’s, R- Sunriver, first priority coming into the session.

With only a few weeks left in the session, both sides have reached language they can live with. Now, the question is whether they have enough time to get the bill out of the Ways and Means Committee and past both chambers.

The program ensures that when water is removed from the basin, the right amount of water is put back in.

The changes to the bill  include the expiration of the program in 2029, and assurances that the Water Resource Department will report to the Legislature every five years on how the program is affecting the headwaters of the Metolius River and other cold water springs in the area.

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