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Legislative Update

From the Trenches: play “Taps” in May for many a good bill

APRIL might be the cruelest month, but it’s got nothing on May in the Legislature. May was a month of deadlines, and, as a result, it’s the month in which bills died by the hundreds. Many of those bills never had a chance of passing in the first place, and by May 31st, their fate became official: toast. Policy committees ended all work on June 1st, so unless a bill had been passed out of committee or moved to one of the non-policy committees (Rules, Revenue or Ways and Means), the bill was dead for this session.

May’s work centered around holding any remaining public hearings and then scheduling work sessions so that committees could vote on the bill, as well as deal with amendments. By May 23rd, bills that had not been scheduled for a work session were done for 2011. Hence, throughout May, a common refrain heard in testimony before committees was “I urge you to schedule this bill for a work session”. The usual committee response was to smile, thank the witness for their testimony, and say nothing more.

In the first three months of the session, a rhythm had been established that carried everyone through the day: Committee hearings, floor sessions, more committee hearings, and, in between, people meeting in offices, hallways and even the basement cafeteria. In May, all that ended as bill sponsors and supporters (and, conversely, opponents) scrambled to get their bill to a committee vote so it might survive. The work in June is to complete work on bills and, more importantly, pass the remaining budgets.

The first of the major budgets, for education, happened in April; the others probably won’t be completed until the end of the session, possibly the last few days. Sen Betsy Johnson is a member of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee; she works on social service issues rather than education, so her efforts are still undergoing. She did acknowledge that getting the education budget done early got one of the most contentious issues “off the table” far earlier than in any previous legislative session.

“As a budget writer,” she said in a phone interview, “this is the busiest phase for me.” Some of the budgets nearing completion include ODOT and public safety. Human services is facing some of the most severe cuts due to the projected revenue shortfall of $3.5 billion the state faces in 2011-13. Sen Johnson said that she and members of the Ways and Means Subcommittee On General Government, which she co-chairs, are hopeful they can “close some of the holes”.

When the State Economist delivered his forecast for the coming years on May 12th, it appeared the state would have $40-80 million more than previously anticipated. In addition, not all reserve funds have been allocated. A variety of options to use additional funds are being developed to curtail some of the more drastic cuts facing vulnerable populations throughout the state. It’s not likely that a clear picture will emerge on what programs will be preserved and which will be cut until late in June.

Redistricting finally took center stage in May with the release of the initial maps. Both parties released their proposals for state and Congressional districts; all versions ran into serious critiques. The Democrats have already dropped a version that would have moved CD 3, now represented by Earl Blumenauer, extend far up the Columbia River towards the coast. Rep Boone is attempting to keep Tillamook County in a single district, something the proposals would change. The Legislature is hoping to come up with a set of maps both parties can agree on. As with most redistricting efforts, that is unlikely, meaning the Secretary of State will end up drawing new state House and Senate lines and a judicial panel the Congressional lines.

(The various redistricting maps are available on the Legislature’s website: http://www.leg.or.us/redistricting.)

One of the outcomes of passing the final deadlines to move bills forward is that planning begins immediately for the 2012 session. As one of Rep Boone’s legislative assistants noted, anyone who has an idea for a bill for next year should begin work now. The process is lengthy, and getting from idea to law is far more complicated than we learned from Schoolhouse Rock. Even good bills can take several sessions to pass; Rep Boone has been working on a bill to support 911 service, but was unable to get it passed. The idea is not dead — she will be part of a work group that will bring the bill back in 2012 — and this experience is not uncommon. All three legislators and their staff are glad to meet with citizens to talk about ideas for future legislation.

But wait until July. This Legislature has a few more weeks to go.


Modernizing the Bottle Bill: It’s a Pass.

REP. BEN CANNON (D-Portland) hailed the Senate passage of a major update to Oregon’s pioneering Bottle Bill.  HB 3145B, chief sponsored by Rep. Cannon and Rep. Vicki Berger (R-Salem), represents the most significant expansion of the Bottle Bill since Oregon adopted the redemption system in 1971.

“With today’s vote, the Bottle Bill is finally on its way to the 21st Century,” said Rep. Cannon.  “By expanding the redemption system to cover all beverage containers, we will save more than 72 million containers per year from landfills.  By encouraging the development of redemption centers, we are making the system more convenient for consumers.  And by increasing the deposit if redemption rates fall, we are ensuring that Oregon will restore its place as a national leader in container recycling.”

Recycle BottlesUnder HB 3145B, juices, teas, sports drinks, and other beverage containers will carry a deposit by no later than 2018.  “Oregon history is littered with unsuccessful attempts to modernize the Bottle Bill,” said Rep. Cannon.  “Our success today stands on the shoulders of many.  The 2007 expansion to water bottles, led by Rep. Vicki Berger and Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, helped create the conditions that made further expansion possible.  The Bottle Bill Task Force established the policy framework for this bill.  Senate leaders, including Sen. Peter Courtney and Sen. Mark Hass, played an important role in getting HB 3145B across the finish line.  And it has been particularly important that Oregon’s grocers, distributors, and recyclers are finally working hand-in-hand to improve the Bottle Bill for Oregonians.”

“For Oregon, the Bottle Bill is about more than recycling beverage containers,” said Rep. Cannon.  “For 40 years, it has stood as a potent symbol of what is possible when Republicans and Democrats work creatively together to solve a common problem.  It has stood as a symbol of what it means to be an Oregonian: wasting little, tending carefully to our resources — leaving the campsite better than we found it.  It is exciting that the Legislature has managed to rekindle that spirit this year.” 3145B now heads to the Governor for his signature.


Bill to Close Market for Shark Fins Clears Final Hurdle

THE HOUSE provided final passage to HB 2838, chief sponsored by Representative Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie), which outlaws the marketing of shark fins in Oregon.  Shark fins are an expensive, in-demand item used in shark fin soup.

“All too often shark fins are obtained by means of a barbaric practice commonly referred to as finning.  This involves the taking of sharks solely for the purpose of harvesting their fins, while the rest of the fish is usually wasted,” said Rep. Witt.  “Worse yet, sharks are often finned alive, only to die an agonizing death of starvation, drowning or bleeding.”

Some estimates show that internationally approximately 73 million sharks are finned and killed each year.  Oregon fisheries regulations conform to federal requirements prohibiting the removal of shark fins or tail at sea.  However, there is no Oregon law that bans the possession, sale, trade or distribution of shark fins in state.  HB 2838 changes that.

To provide final passage the House concurred with Senate amendments to the bill.  The Senate amendments add exemptions for a person who holds a license or permit under commercial or recreational fishing laws or a fish processor who holds a license.

In the wake of Oregon action on this issue, similar legislation is now being considered in California, Washington and Canada.

HB 2838 now moves to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

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