Your Oregon Legislature adjourned Friday afternoon. It
completed a disorderly and disappointing 35 day
legislative session that is not working out as voters
Voters were asked by the Legislature to
approve a constitutional amendment to authorize annual
legislative sessions. Oregon voters adopted that
amendment in 2010.The new, constitutionally approved
sessions include a five month session held in odd
numbered years and a 35 day session during even numbered
The need for the short session was portrayed
to voters as a way to make needed adjustments to the
budgets, deal with emergencies, take advantage of short
term opportunities, and to make consensus policy
I opposed the creation of annul legislative sessions
because I believe your Legislature is unable to
constrain itself to these stated goals.
First and foremost, I was concerned that the short
sessions would be used as a political venue to influence
elections by positioning legislators to make votes that
are unpopular in their districts. This is usually
accomplished by inserting a “poison pill” in otherwise
needed legislation. The legislator is then attacked by
his or her political base if voting yes and attacked by
the media and political opponents if voting no.
Further, I was worried that the short sessions would be
viewed by some legislators as a chance to adopt major
policy changes, with very limited opportunity for public
participation. Finally, the short sessions would provide
both the opportunity and the excuse to escalate state
Unfortunately, the majority party has proven
all of these concerns to be well founded. They made
yeoman effort during the 2014 session to adopt major
changes in public policy, increase spending, exclude
public participation in the making of new laws, and even
attempted to short circuit the peoples’ constitutional
right to review legislative work. The introduction of
several “policy” bills appeared to be only for the
purpose of creating political positioning for the fall
Budgets were adjusted authorizing the spending of
virtually all but $150 million of the State income that
is estimated to be received over the balance of the
current two year budget period. The budgets adopted
during the 2013 session already approved spending most
of the savings accumulated during the previous budget
cycle. The reserve amount is now reduced to less than
eight tenths of one percent of the expected general fund
and lottery revenue for the next sixteen months. Either
a one percent downturn in the economy, or a one percent
miscalculation in projected income, could place the
state budgets in deficit.
Oregon taxpayers had little, if any, opportunity to
participate in determining either how much of their
tax-dollars will be spent, or in deciding for what
purpose their money will be spent. Virtually all of the
budget decisions were adopted after the Legislature went
on one-hour posting notice.
This means that a bill may be scheduled for a public
hearing, to be significantly amended or to be scheduled
for a committee vote with only one hour notice to the
public and other lawmakers. Obviously, this procedure
fundamentally eliminates the opportunity for the public
to weigh-in on budget matters. In fact, about 80 of
Oregon’s 90 legislators were provided less than 24 hours
to examine several hundred pages of complex budget
bills, before being required to vote on them.
For instance, few legislators knew that the budgets
include about $350 million in increased compensation for
all public employees that were subject to last summer’s
state labor negotiations. By my calculations, that pay
increase will automatically escalate to nearly three
quarters of a billion dollars for the 2015-17 budget
period. I could not find where that enormous roll-up
cost was even discussed in the budget bills.
Many major policy ideas that failed to be enacted during
the 2013 “long session” were brought back for another
Efforts to resurrect the fatally flawed Columbia River
Crossing I-5 Bridge rightfully fizzled.
Senators Proznaski and Burdick orchestrated yet another
failed attempt to curtail our constitutionally
guaranteed right to possess and bear firearms.
Adoption of Governor Kitzhaber’s signature Low Carbon
fuel Standard, that would so damage Oregon’s business
economy, was once again beaten back.
Likewise, unending efforts to place useless and damaging
regulations on allegedly potentially toxic materials
were once again defeated.
State Treasurer Ted Wheeler’s ongoing attempt to create
a new agency to manage the investment of nearly $90
billion of state taxpayer money, with literally no
legislative oversight, was rejected on the last day of
A new effort to refer a measure to the voters to
legalize the possession and sale of marijuana died due
to lack of support in the Senate.
An arrogant attempt by House Democrat leadership to
rewrite the ballot title for the referral of the law to
create an Oregon driver card for undocumented aliens
passed the House but was stopped in the Senate.
Finally, the disgraceful CY PRES bill received a much
deserved death on the Senate floor.
The measure created an outright gift to class action
plaintiff attorneys, by eliminating most of the court
procedure governing Oregon class action lawsuits and
replacing it …with nothing. The near certain result
would have been a national migration of class action
lawsuits seeking Oregon judges that are willing to
create court procedures favorable to their clients. It
had the potential to create a
“cottage industry” for filing class action lawsuits in
this state. We might as well of been saying “Ya’all come
to Oregon to shop for a judge who is sympathetic to your
The bill also would have diverted unclaimed awards made
to members of a class action settlement to an endowment
for Legal Aid. There is certainly a constitutional
question whether money, either adjudicated by the court
or directed by a settlement agreement to be received by
an aggrieved member of the class, can be summarily given
to someone else. Of course, the money would only be
transferred to Legal Aid to be used for “humanitarian”
purposes after a percentage was claimed by plaintiff
It was a masterfully written political work of art. The
bill was designed to pit the interests of the
“malevolent” world of business, against the
“humanitarian service” of Legal Aid to indigent people.
The bill was created to be an open ended political dare
to anyone who had the courage to vote against this gift
to plaintiff attorneys. I am proud to be one of the 15
Senators who took the dare and voted NO!
On the other hand, a number of good ideas were enacted
into law with virtual consensus votes.
The telecommunications 9-1-1 tax was extended to point
of sale for prepaid telephone cards creating much needed
funding for the 9-1-1 program.
A bill was adopted to allow employers to give preference
to hiring veterans, disabled veterans and spouses of
Other bills were enacted giving preferences to veterans
for access to post-secondary education and financial
A common sense bill was passed that allows the reuse of
previously used wheel chairs, adjustable beds and other
Strong bipartisan majorities enacted the ability for
cities and counties to place a moratorium on licensing
“medical marijuana dispensaries”.
Finally, $200 million in bonding authority was issued to
Oregon Health Sciences University to help match the
incredibly generous half billion dollar challenge grant
by Phil and Penny Knight. That grant will help expand
OHSU’s Knight Cancer Research facility to a world class
cancer research center. It will also accelerate and help
to pay for OHSU’s rural health clinic expansion into
If appropriately limited, the short session could be a
valuable asset for Oregonians. As currently practiced,
it is being used to enact laws behind closed doors
without the benefit of public knowledge, input or
participation. Worse, the primary function of the 2014
short session devolved into a blunt instrument used to
position candidates for the creation of political
advertising for the fall elections.
Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon
no one will.