2011 Oregon Legislative Session

Betsy Johnson and colleaguesA K-12 budget no one likes, a highway renamed for a man everyone respected, and a legislative process that may drive everyone crazy. Welcome back to the . . .

The Biggest Deal: K-12 Budget
In April, the Senate and House passed, and Gov Kitzhaber signed, the K-12 budget (SB 5552). The $5.7 billion budget is, agrees every member of the Legislature, far short of adequate. But, as Sen Betsy Johnson put it, “We don’t have enough money to fund everyone at the level they think is optimal.” The Senate voted 30-0 for the bill, an extraordinary feat according to Johnson.

The vote in the House was 32-28; each caucus undoubtedly agreed who would vote for and against the budget. The bill had to pass — too much was riding on the need to pass this budget early, including continuing a good working relationship with both the Senate and the Governor — but as members on both sides of the aisle as possible were allowed to vote No. Rep Deborah Boone was one who either choose, or agreed, to vote Yes. Her statement on voting Yes was almost identical to that of Rep Brad Witt: this is the money we have, and it’s not enough. But she will also be supporting efforts of House Dems to tap more reserve funds for schools, an effort Witt also supports.

Sometimes the politics forces these kinds of results: Witt and Boone are in agreement on the K-12 Budget, but it was her duty, or choice, to vote to pass the bill.

Even after the passage of the K-12 budget, which represents about one-quarter of the state’s spending from the General Funding, budget matters dominate. The state’s massive budget gap, approximately $3.5 billion short of what would be needed to fund existing programs at existing levels (with inflation), means that policy matters won’t necessarily pass on merit; everything will be scrutinized in unprecedented ways through the lens of funding.

Johnson, who sits on the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee said, “We are going to be doing inhumane budgets” in human services. The state, she said, may be pushing cuts to health providers of up to 19%. “A facility like Clatsop Care is in jeopardy; conceivably the hospital is in jeopardy,” she said. Witt explained that for rest of budget, “much of this is a zero-sum game … we can’t spend the same dollar twice.”  To exacerbate the problem, he said, many of the cuts will lead to the loss of matching federal funds: a $1 cut grows to potentially to a $6 or $7 loss.

All three local representatives are continuing work on both legislation and constituent service. Johnson noted the recent damage to the dock at the City of Warrenton Wauna Mill and her efforts to coordinate with state agencies to move repairs forward as quickly as possible. Witt spoke about bills moving through the legislative process regarding jobs, noting efforts in alternative energy and fuels using biomass and even recycling of plastic. He also has a bill that would make the possession and sale of shark fins in Oregon illegal, a ground-breaking bill that attacks the cruel practice of shark-finning (cutting off the fins and then returning the maimed fish back into the sea to slowly die).

Boone had a number of legislative successes, including a bill to fix a hole in the worker compensation that had removed podiatric care from the list of approved treatments; extending the sunset on wave energy rules beyond 2022; and a series of bills that are moving forward as amendments to other bills. These include bills on dangerous operation of ATVs and an animal abuser registry.

Finally, the House passed HB 3354 unanimously: this will rename a portion of Highway 30 between St Helens and Rainier in honor of slain Police Chief Ralph Painter; the Senate will act on this bill in early May.

On May 12th, the State Economist will release the “May Forecast” and, at that point, all remaining budget bills will begin to scramble for final funding. A positive forecast won’t mean a sudden flood of money; even the rosiest forecast will still be relatively grim for the state. More likely is that additional funds would be released from reserves with the assurance those will be recovered via economic improvements. And the fact that the Leg will be back in session next February means they can provide necessary adjustments to the 2011-13 budget at that time.

Meanwhile, as the month moves along, committees will struggle to hear as many bills as possible, to pass the most vital, and to try to avoid politically damaging votes. That won’t be easy. On May 11th, for example, the House Rules committee will hold a public hearing on Tuition Equity, allowing undocumented residents to attend Oregon colleges and pay in-state tuition. If that gets to the House floor, a lot of Representatives are going to be facing a volatile decision.


Bill to link Community Colleges and Universities
A bill that creates a clear path for students to transfer between community colleges and universities passed the Oregon House unanimously. HB 3251, championed by Representative Val Hoyle (D-West Eugene/Junction City), earlier received unanimous support in both the Higher Education and Education Committees.  The bill makes it easier to transfer credits from community colleges to universities, said Hoyle.

Buy Oregon First Bill – HB 3000
HB 3000 allows state agencies to choose Oregon goods when bidding out contracts.  The House passed HB 3000, the Buy Oregon First Bill.  The bill, chief sponsored by Representative Brian Clem (D-Salem) and Representative Ben Cannon (D-SE Portland), allows state agencies to give preference to goods and services produced in Oregon when bidding out contracts.

“Oregon government purchases a lot of goods and services.  We should be buying Oregon products first. We think as many of these products as possible should be purchased from small businesses within our state, particularly when the price of those products is very similar. This bill allows Oregon companies to take advantage of the state’s purchasing power to grow their businesses and create more Oregon jobs,” said Rep. Clem.

Oregon House Passes Bottle Bill Update – HB 1036
An improvement to Oregon’s iconic Bottle Bill passed out of the House on a 47-12 vote.

“Just a shade over 40 years ago, this chamber passed HB 1036, Oregon’s Bottle Bill,” said bill sponsor Rep. Ben Cannon (D – Portland). “It turned out to be one of the most effective recycling tools ever devised, but it’s showing signs of age. Today’s vote helps bring the Bottle Bill into the 21st Century.”

HB 3145 updates the Bottle Bill by expanding the system to include containers for most juice, tea, and sports/energy drinks, no later than January 1, 2017.

The bill also encourages the development of a robust system of redemption centers, which will maintain consumer convenience while improving the redemption experience. It creates an incentive for the beverage industry to keep the redemption rate high. Only if redemption rates fall below 80% after 2016 would the deposit increase to 10 cents per container.

By T.A. Barnhart

T.A. Barnhart is a writer, videographer, social media consultant, and a native Oregonian. He writes about politics and spent the 2011 Legislative session providing video reports via his website and Facebook. You can read more of his work at &, and you can follow him on FB or Twitter (@tabarnhart).