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FEATURES NEWS

Revving up for the CD1 Race

t.a. barnhart talks with Jim Greenfield and Lisa Michaels for HIPFiSH

First, the personal stuff.
I do not like the politics represented by Jim Greenfield and Lisa Michaels. I think they are wrong on the facts, wrong on the theory and wrong on their conclusions about American economics and politics. I also think more Americans agree with me on the issues than with them. Should either of them get the Republican nomination for CD 1, count me among those helping whichever of the Democrats is nominated.

That said, I had a great time talking with both Greenfield and Michaels recently. Rob Cornilles, the presumptive leader of the GOP field, wouldn’t even agree to an interview for Hipfish; his deputy campaign manager made sneering, dismissive comments about both of these opponents. Yet when we spoke over the phone in late August in separate conversation, I found both to be open, personable, honest about their political aims, and full-speed-ahead conservatives. Both knew my political leanings — I informed them prior to the interview of the range of work I do — but neither was defensive or aggressive. In short, it was a pleasure to speak with them and to get the chance to ask them about their campaigns for this nomination.

Jim GreenfieldJim Greenfield
Jim Greenfield is a lawyer working in real estate investment, a radio talk show host, and he’s been through this before. In 2002, he was the Republican nominee for this Congressional seat, and he got thumped 63%-34%. But he doesn’t come across like a person who thinks about defeat. He’s also a free market fundamentalist, as he sees it:

“Adam Smith, Milton Friedman … free markets work fabulously well at creating wealth and prosperity for the entire population if they’re allowed to work without government intervening. And part of that free market system is that companies that do well and are well-managed succeed. Companies that are poorly managed or dishonest, fail. And that’s the way it should be.”

Greenfield opposed the TARP bailout, calling it and other taxpayer-funding rescues of corporations “corrupt” — the recipients of that funding in turn give campaign contributions to those who bailed them out. This opposition to targeted government spending that benefits specific individuals is one example of the kind of spending Greenfield opposes.

“All the functions that the government is now spending on that are not authorized by the Constitution, we should look at cutting back and save there. And that’s most of the federal domestic budget.”

As the CD 1 Representative in Congress, Greenfield said he would not be working to bring “pork” back to the district. He feels the system is corrupt, with each Member voting for other Members’ pork in order to get their own. For Greenfield, this is “politics as usual” and he would instead seek to reduce federal spending.

“We could save trillions of dollars off our military budget if we’d just start fighting the war on terrorism intelligently. Instead of having huge armies fighting wars in foreign countries, if we just started targeting terrorist groups, that would save our Treasury hundreds of billions of dollars a year in the military budget.”

This would also include closing down bases in Europe and Japan: “We can’t afford [to station troops there] anymore.”

Greenfield does not accept the argument that raising the debt ceiling was necessary: “Debt is the problem”. True to his conservative ideals, he argues that government needs to eliminate regulations that hamper the free market. The housing market implosion, he said, was caused by regulations aimed at universal home ownership that forced banks to lend to anyone, regardless of ability to pay. He would privatize Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac and let the free markets fix the damage done to housing.

Greenfield argues that his stands on the issues “are much stronger, much clearer” than Cornilles’. His strategy is to position himself on the right and give the voters a real choice. He is clear on where he stands: “liberal governmentalist policies don’t work”. Liberalism creates bureaucracy and higher taxes while preventing the free enterprise system from working. He believes voters in both parties are coming to this understanding; so by campaigning on that basis, he believes he’ll provide the winning alternative to liberal politics-as-usual that he sees as the greatest problem facing the country.

Lisa MichaelsLisa Michaels
Lisa Michaels is a local tv and radio host, a consultant and entrepreneur, and, like Greenfield, a veteran of political campaigns. In 2000, she lost the HD 8 race to Mark Hass by 10 percentage points. In 2008, she again challenged Hass, this time for his Senate seat. She didn’t fair so well in this second race, getting steamrolled 68%-32%. But, again like Greenfield, you don’t hear anything defeatist from her despite those tough losses.

But while Greenfield is running to take on federal domestic spending, Michaels’ aims for Congress are less clear. She’s unfamiliar with the issues facing the North Coast region. A long-time resident of Beaverton who pulled her kids from public schools, the basis of her campaign stems from her broadcasting experience:

“I try to talk with my audience, not at them. … I’ve been studying the issues and talking with the community about them for years” on her radio show. Her strategy is simple: Go out and meet as many voters as possible. She believes she is “in touch” with her community, and, if elected, will maintain that contact by conducting a weekly Ustream.com interactive town hall with constituents to get their perspective.

“I’m not going to be owned by anybody,” she declared.

Taxes and Regulations
Although not running explicitly as a Tea Party candidate, Michaels reflects those politics. She opposes anything that infringes on the property rights of the individual. Part of this stems from a land dispute involving her family, and part of it is simply the ideology of the far right:

“I just really want to get government off of people’s backs so they can start making more money and so we can free ‘em up to hire more people.

“Business owners don’t know what state and federal governments are going to hit ‘em with next. Measure 66 & 67 was just the death knell to a lot of business owners.”

Over the course of an hour’s conversation, she offered no specifics about these issues apart from a few personal anecdotes. Her views are similar to Greenfield’s; he presents the free-market-libertarian perspective in a more sophisticated way. If he’s running for the distinctly right, that’s turf he shares with Michaels.

She also opposes “green solutions”, charging that they cost more than what is returned on the investment — not a very encouraging message to those seeking the development of wave energy facilities off the Clatsop County coast.

In fact, she’s a proponent of “clean coal gasification” and other energy resources that she says “we know work, like oil and gas”. She called “green energy” a “big scam” that allows the federal government to take away people’s lands, lets environmental lawyers file frivolous lawsuits, and otherwise deprive Americans of their private property, thereby enslaving them.

These are not fringe or radical views, of course. I assume in the course of the campaign, she’ll provide more detail as she meets voters;

“Designated Losers”
“I think it’s a big power trip on both parties, and I’m fed up with it.”

Michaels initial reason for seeking the nomination was to expose voter fraud, something she has taken on in the past. But even more than tackling voter fraud — a big challenge given the paucity of evidence in Oregon for anything worse than incompetence — she now wants to win to prove a point:

“I especially want to win it because of the attitudes and the things that have happened with the Cornilles campaign. … We’ve got some insiders in the Republican Party, the elite group that is supposed to run all the campaigns…. I think it’s a big money-making endeavor for people that run campaigns.”

Michaels cited her various forays into the electoral waters, either being thwarted by the party pushing forward candidates they had no intention of backing — “designated losers” she calls them — or refusing to provide her with fundraising and other resources. She pointed to the Dudley gubernatorial campaign as a prime example of this GOP elite caring more about money than winning:

“If you can gin-up fear of government to the extent that you can raise eleven million dollars with the right kind of high-profile guy like Chris Dudley, and you can get commission on eleven million dollars, despite the fact that his opponent … only raised $4 million, and he beats him? Do you really care if your candidate loses if you’re able to gin-up that kind of angst to generate that kind of donation level?”

Michaels’ anger at the GOP seems to be as much a driving force as Greenfield’s is towards federal domestic spending. And while it’s evident she cares about the general issues of reducing regulations and taxes, and that she would be an advocate for resource extraction within the country and an opponent to developing sustainable energy sources; it’s also clear she’s running to win for another very strong reason.

To spite the Oregon GOP.

“Are we really going to nominate the guy who lost by double-digits to the crazy guy less than a year ago? Does that really make sense to anybody?”

Rob Cornilles
I extended the same invitation to the Cornilles campaign as I did to Greenfield and Michaels. I spoke to his Deputy Campaign Manager who, when told I would be interviewing those two, was dismissive about their politics. Cornilles “declined” to be interviewed, whether because of the inclusion of Greenfield and Michaels, or because I was the interviewer, I don’t know.

Jim Greenfield’s website is http://greenfieldforcongress.com/. Lisa Michaels’ can be found at http://www.lisamichaels.org/.

Categories
FEATURES

2011 Legislature Wrap-up. Our region’s legislators say, “Not soooo bad.”

Senator Johnson on panel
Senator Johnson, the Ways and Means Committee and the passage of K-12 budget, making lemonade.

The 2011 Legislature wrapped up work in record time and with remarkable results: surviving the 30/30 split in the House, as unprecedented as the third-term governor; building a budget to cope with a $3.5 billion revenue gap; and completing redistricting without resorting to the courts or the Secretary of State’s office. And they managed to do all this in an atmosphere that rarely strayed from the collegial and respectful.

After a month’s rest and recuperation, and a chance to meet with constituents around the districts, the region’s three members of the Legislature — Senator Betsy Johnson and Representatives Deborah Boone and Brad Witt — looked back at the session’s challenges and outcomes, both the positive and the disappointing. Not surprisingly, one thing stood out as the defining feature of the 2011 session:

“Very significant … 30/30 in the House.” Senator Johnson
“30/30 made [action] more problematic.” Representative Witt
“For the most part, the [shared leadership] experiment worked.” Representative Boone

The even split between Democrats and Republicans in the House had never happened in Oregon, so the entire session was spent inventing the wheel. All actions had to be approved by two Co-Speakers and, in committee, by two Co-chairs. The Senate had the narrowest partisan margin, 16-14 Democratic; despite the close divide of the two chambers, Johnson saw the session as being “remarkably civil”. She felt the two Co-speakers were “gentlemanly” and “overall, it was a session that Oregonians can be proud of.”

The Legislature’s priority in every session, of course, is to pass the state’s biennial budget. With the added burden of starting $3.5 billion in the hole, this task in 2011 was especially daunting. But not only did the Legislature pass budgets for the three major areas of state government — education, health and social services, public safety — they completed the biggest, for K-12 education, in April, in time to let school districts know how much funding they would receive before they completed their budgets. Historically, the education budget is one of the last things done in the session.

The budgets were, admitted Johnson, “skinny” but they did get done. She noted with pride that unlike some past sessions, and as some people feared, no major programs were shut down, including ever-threatened Oregon Youth Authority programs. Some of the outcomes were harsh, however. Boone talked about fees for accessing the medical marijuana program, which will increase from $100 a year to $200 — but for some low-income users, that increase will be from a no-longer-reduced $20 to the full $200, an increase she called “egregious”. She also pointed to recertification fees charged to EMTs that will drive some from the job. On the plus side, however, she was happy that Project Independence, which helps seniors remain in their homes, had been scheduled for cuts, but, in the end got a small “bump” in funding.

Witt termed the entire budget process as “holding the line” on issues of greatest impact to those in his district. He spoke on those issues a number of times on the House floor, most notably in March when he defended the need to extend unemployment benefits to the long-term jobless — something Legislature was able to do in spite of the budgetary challenge.

“Budgets are about priorities,” said Johnson, who served on the Ways and Means Committee, which authors all budget bills.

One outcome of the “complex process” in the House that resulted from the 30/30 split, Johnson said, was that it “whetted [both parties’] appetite for that one seat” needed for a majority. She predicted that the 2012 campaign would be “gruesome” in the chase for a legislative majority. Boone reflected, with an air of resignation, that a certain amount of gamesmanship had occurred, with committee chairs blocking action on bills they opposed, sometimes just because they could. It was a state of affairs no one wants to repeat in future sessions.

Bills on social issues were introduced in 2011, as usual, but, said Boone, there was an unspoken agreement early on that “huge, far-reaching” bills were not going to move forward. She didn’t think that was a bad thing necessarily; it would force backers to continue work in education at the local level before trying to “slam them out” in the Legislature.

Johnson, when asked about how the district fared in the session, said that “we were ok” because many needs had been met in previous sessions. Capital construction funds for the two community colleges had already been secured. Boone, in speaking about her district, while glad that several projects in regard to wave energy had been funded, also noted that the major experimental project was currently blocked from using the power it produced. “I hope to fix that in February,” she said, referring to next year’s short session.

One achievement of which Witt was proud was his landmark bill to block the sale or possession of shark fins. The fins are used in soup and are in worldwide demand; however, fins are supplied not by fishing the entire shark but by cutting off just the dorsal fins and throwing the maimed creature back into the sea. Witt’s bill helps set a precedent for banning the practice that he expects to see grow, including in Canada.

And all three were happy to see the upgrade in the Bottle Bill.

The three legislators wasted no time following the end of session in meeting with constituents. Johnson held town halls in both House districts with the two representatives, meeting from Tillamook to Astoria (“I want to give them kudos for getting the most people … on a Sunday morning … incredibly well-informed”) to Sauvie Island. Issues covered health care, bicycles, the Oregon Bank, ESDs, all-day kindergarten, kicker reform, emergency preparedness on the coast, BPA in sippy cups, marijuana and more. She was surprised that the Liquid Natural Gas terminal only came up once, and just in a general conversation about Oregon being an exporter of natural resources.

All three legislators are now back into their non-legislative lives. Brad Witt is on the campaign trail, seeking the Democratic nomination to replace David Wu in Congress. The timing of the election means that either he’ll retain his House seat if he loses the primary or general special election — or his district will have to pick his replacement in early February 2012 if he wins. And that will be while the Legislature is in session.

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NEWS

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.

Categories
FEATURES

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.

IN OTHER LEGISLATIVE BUSINESS…
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.

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.


GOOD BILLS MOVING TO THE SENATE

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.

Categories
FEATURES

2011 Legislative Session: The First Half. Now is the time to get in touch with backers!

THE 2011 LEGISLATURE is nearly halfway through the 2011 session, and, from an outside perspective, not much has been done yet. That, however, is simply the nature of any legislative session: few bills are passed in the first few months. Since February 1st, Senate and House committees have been meeting three times a day, Monday through Friday, working their way through more than 3,000 bills. In the past few weeks, more and more bills have been coming to a vote in committee and then on the floor. The pace will pick up as the session moves forward.

The song-and-dance of “How I become a bill‚” is only partially accurate; in the Oregon Legislature, the process is a bit different. Bills are introduced into either the House or Senate; in the former, the Speaker (or, in the case of this session’s split chamber, to the Co-Speakers), and to the President in the latter. Then there’s the committee process: a public hearing, with testimony taken from whoever is willing to travel to Salem at the appointed hour (or mail in written testimony), followed by a work session. Maybe. Work sessions are not guaranteed: a majority of the committee must agree to hold a session, and while they are generally deferential to each other, controversial bills can be stopped cold by blocking a work session. At the work session, final amendments are agreed upon, and then the committee votes on the bill. If it passes, it goes to the appropriate chamber for a vote of the full body — and is then sent to the other chamber where the process is repeated. Should a bill get through both the House and the Senate, the Governor will then decide to sign it. Or not.

At this point, both chambers have been working through hundreds of public hearings, working with staff and public to develop amendments that make the bill’s passage more likely, and then scheduling work sessions. Bills are now being passed in the House and Senate, which means they then go to the other chamber to work through the process on that side. Given the different politics on each side — Dems in control of the Senate with power-sharing in the House — the passage of a bill in one Chamber does not ensure a favorable response on the other side of the Capitol.

Only a few bills have been through the entire process to this point, the most notable of which was SB 301, which reconnected Oregon to the federal tax code, giving state taxpayers and businesses tax breaks at a cost of $10 million. On the House side, numerous Democrats joined with the Republican caucus to pass the bill. Area Representatives Deborah Boone and Brad Witt opposed Republican changes to the bill but voted for the final measure. The element of the bill of most immediate benefit is a tax credit for families paying college tuition.

Most of the bills being passed are non-controversial. Each session, the Legislature has to pass laws to correct mistakes in previous legislation, deal with unintended consequences, cover new or changing circumstances, or simply, as they like to call it, “house keeping‚“ a missing phrase or instruction that has resulted in problems of some kind. These bills have to go through the entire process but do so with minimal problem. Other bills that zoom through can be more notable. The bill to allow serving homebrews is a good example. Oregon homebrewers had shared their wares for years at the State Fair and other events, but the OLCC determined in 2010 that the law actually forbade this. The Leg has now corrected this gap in the law, and, with the Governor’s signature in late March, that problem has been rectified.

In mid-April, a particular deadline will hit: Bills that have not been passed out of committee will be dead. While they can be revived, so to speak, in the Rules Committee, it’s a rare and special bill that will be considered that way. Advocates are now working hard to get their bills to a vote in committee so that they can continue down the road. Opponents, especially those who sit on the committees, will be able to use delay and the calendar to stop bills they oppose. If you have a bill you are concerned about, now is the time to get in touch with backers and see what needs to be done.

Local lawmakers are in the thick of this work, of course. Rep Brad Witt recently made a passionate appeal on the floor of the House for an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. Rep Deborah Boone is keep an eye on plans to situate wave generators off the coast. Sen Betsy Johnson has been doing, as she put it, the “unsexy” work of writing budgets as a member of the Ways and Means Committee. She added that once the budgets are written, she’ll have more interesting news.

T. A. Barnhart is a regular columnist for Blue Oregon and legislative videographer.