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Buckle up; first annual legislative session promises a wild ride Print E-mail

chuck-bennett.jpgby Chuck Bennett, Director of Governmental Relations

An email the other day from Southern Oregon ESD superintendent Scott Perry got me thinking. How can I explain the first annual Session of the Oregon Legislature set to begin on February 1? The next email I opened gave me the answer – Senate President Peter Courtney was speaking to Marion County Democrats at Kwan’s Kitchen and his topic was to be his take on how the Session would work.

So, yesterday I tucked into a plate full of Singapore Noodles, sweet and sour chicken and a beef broccoli stir fry to hear the author of the annual session ballot measure take a stab at explaining how this new experiment in Oregon lawmaking will work. For those of you who have heard Courtney speak, do know I’m leaving out the fun stuff – like listening to Peter banter with supporters and refer to his often melancholic disposition as the audience tries not to swallow their chopsticks laughing at his facially expressed confusion over the humor they find in his solonic gloom.

Here’s an example. All bills must have been requested by December 5. Courtney looked pleased as he outlined how strict he was enforcing the rules of the game – members get two bills, interim committees five, the Governor five and to his amusement the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court gets five. Courtney explained that he and the co-speakers of the Oregon House of Representatives can introduce as many as they want but he is imposing a politically correct two on himself. Then he does the math – a total of 259 bills can be introduced into the Session if everyone plays by the rules. Here comes to gloom – there are nearly 300 of them floating around. How can this be, he asks his partisan audience with a note of perplexity in his voice.

Courtney has been in the Legislature for 27 years and explains he knows how this can happen.  He’s expected to kill about 50 of his colleagues great ideas right out of the shoot, which will be no later than January 27 when he issues his list of likely committee assignments where the bills will be referred. If that happens and it sounds like it is, there will be 259 bills at play on February 1 when he opens the Senate and his counterpart co-chairs double tap in the House

Under the Constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly by the voters last year, the Legislature will have 35 days to do its job. Courtney, after citing substantial history of the past two special Sessions that led up to the vote, predicts it will go faster and is shooting for closure (called “sine die”) on February 29. Worse comes to worse, and Courtney sees things like this through a glass darkly, it goes to March 6.

Senate bills will have to be posted for hearing by Feb. 6 and completed by Feb. 14 to be sent to the House. The House bills will have to be considered for votes in committee by Feb. 21 and out of committee on Feb. 23

If you do a quick math on all this, its 10 working days for consideration of Senate Bills, 15 for House bills and if a bill passes one chamber it will have about 7 days of life left in the other chamber. The prediction from timelines like this is that bills with problems like opposition will have a hard time making it all the way through the system. There just won’t be time to work out kinks let alone add up the 31 votes in the House and 16 votes in the Senate needed to make ideas into laws.

So, if you follow this stuff, buckle your seat belt and get ready for substantial turbulence. It’s going to be a heck of a ride.

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This page was last updated on Friday, December 16, 2011 .