The first constitutional annual session
of the Oregon Legislative Assembly will adjourn sine die
early this week. The thirty five day session was fast
paced, rushed and too often disconnected from public
It was my understanding that the primary
purpose of the annual Legislative sessions are to make
needed adjustments in state budgets, and to enact
pressing legislation. Bills that are more complex and
that make major policy changes were to wait for the
longer sessions scheduled in odd-numbered years. The
first purpose was achieved. Unfortunately, major policy
changes were attempted and enacted.
Budget adjustments were needed due to
continued reductions in projected state revenue. Those
changes were made in order to maintain balanced budgets.
Once again, the adjustments were accomplished without
levying any new taxes, and with only a few very modest
Fortunately, new borrowing was kept to a
minimum because Oregonís credit is about maxed out. The
cost of paying current debt is already using about five
percent of the General Fund revenue and nearly twenty
five percent of the lottery revenue. Every dollar that
must be spent on debt service is a dollar that cannot be
spent on schools, public safety, health care and other
Since the 2010 elections, Oregon spending
growth has stopped. As a matter of fact, the current
budgets actually call for spending a total of about $4
billion less than in the previous two-year budgets.
Those reductions are not enough but they are a start.
The state is still spending about $15,000 for every man,
women and child residing in Oregon. We must keep in mind
that every dollar that the state spends is ultimately a
dollar taken out of someoneís pocket.
Normal legislative procedures that ensure
the checks and balances needed to avoid unintended
consequences were routinely ignored during the short
session. Tight schedules functionally excluded most
opportunities for public participation in hearings. A
number of the major policy bills were limited to
hearings in only one chamber. The reason repeatedly
given for these contraventions in normal legislative
procedures was the lack of enough time.
From my perspective, too much was
attempted in too short a period of time. Well more than
100 bills, resolutions and memorials were introduced in
the Senate and nearly 200 more in the House. Nearly one
hundred twenty of those bills were enacted into law.
Without a doubt, some good work was
accomplished. Other good bills fell by the wayside due
to lack of agreement or insufficient time. Notably,
virtually all of the bills introduced by Republicans
designed specifically to address state government
barriers to private sector job growth were blocked.
One very troubling trend continued to
emerge. Seventy one percent of the bills enacted into
law during the 2012 session had an emergency clause
attached that makes them effective immediately upon
their passage and approval by the Governor.
I am aware of only two purposes for
attaching an emergency clause to a bill. The first is a
pressing need to fix a previous legislative error or to
enact a law to address a new issue that needs immediate
resolution. The second is to block the constitutionally
guaranteed right of the people to refer the new law to a
vote of the people to decide.
The main purpose of delayed
implementation of a new law is to provide adequate time
for the public to gather sufficient signatures on
petitions to refer a measure for the people to decide.
Once the adequate signatures are collected, the new law
is held in abeyance until the people have the
opportunity to vote to decide whether or not to adopt
the law. In the event that the people vote to reject the
law the Legislative approval is null and void.
Bills were enacted during this session
that make sweeping changes in the governance, design and
delivery of education from kindergarten to graduate
school. Another series of bills serve to consolidate all
early learning and prevention programs under a single
authority. Other bills were enacted that are designed to
change the entire paradigm of how health care is
provided in Oregon. From my perspective, too much
authority that currently is under Legislative control,
and that should remain under Legislative control, is
being transferred to the Executive power of the
Virtually all of these bills that make
significant policy changes enacted during the 2012
Assembly contain an emergency clause. In my opinion,
limiting the peoplesí constitutional right to refer
these sweeping policy changes to a vote of the public to
decide is simply wrong.
Please remember, if we do not stand up
for rural Oregon no one will.