4 min read

Changing Clocks and Racing Against the Clock

The legislature’s short session is akin to drinking out of the firehose.

The Takeaway

We all know that time is a constant. Each day is the same number of hours, minutes, and seconds—arguing anything else seems ridiculous. During the legislature’s short, five-week session, however, those rules need not apply. Days can feel like weeks, weeks like months, and a month, well, feels more or less like a session. The short session is always a sprint, but this session is even more so, with the legislature taking the biggest bite of the apple in such a limited amount of time.

The Takeaway is a weekly session publication making sense of Oregon politics and policy. Every Friday while the legislature is in session, we publish a review of the week’s prominent topics and controversies. Subscribe to The Takeaway to receive these newsletters in your inbox!

During the first two weeks of the session, the chambers’ floor sessions were relatively calm, with most of the work occurring in committees. Since the short session takes the timeline of the regular, five-month session and truncates its deadlines to the span of only five weeks, the legislature operates under perpetual deadlines. Now, with bills starting to come out of committee and onto the floor, lawmakers must chew gum and walk at the same time. There isn’t a moment during the short session where lawmakers, staff, and advocates are not scurrying around the building trying to keep beloved ideas alive and dreaded threats dead. It’s a lot like drinking out of a firehose. And it will not slow down until the final gavels fall on or before March 10.

There is a collegiality this session between party leadership that didn’t seem to exist in recent sessions. Republicans are not requiring bill readings or threatening to walk out and deny a quorum, at least publicly, and Democrats seem to avoid some of the most controversial issues. While there is the occasional contentious bill, such as a proposal this week to continue a ban on growing canola in the Willamette Valley, the gloves are staying on. The absence of a major partisan controversy, as frequently occurred in the past over guns, abortion, or climate policy, is perhaps the only way the legislature has the capacity and willingness to tackle so much this session.

Tentative Measure 110 Deal

Despite the deadlines and committees closing, much work remains for the legislature next week. The committee charged with reforming Oregon’s drug decriminalization law is expected to release the contents of a tentative deal next week, recriminalizing drug possession in certain situations and offering a path out of criminal penalties for individuals seeking drug treatment. While the politics around the drug reform package seem promising—Democrats and Republicans regularly talk about the urgency for the committee to button up its work—it also faces robust opposition from progressive advocates asserting recriminalization disproportionately harms minority communities. With something in the package for everyone to equally love and hate, it will take the right mix of political will, bipartisanship, and, perhaps, luck to get a final package over the finish line.

Campaign Finance Reform

This afternoon, the House Rules Committee introduced campaign finance reform as an issue the legislature may address in the final weeks of the short session. While Oregonians broadly support limits on political giving, the legislature has always faltered at finding an equilibrium between good governance groups, organized labor, and the business community, with each previous proposal stirring a lot of attention but floundering before gaining any real momentum. This year, however, the politics are different. Good governance groups are close to qualifying an initiative on the November ballot imposing strict campaign finance limits, essentially blocking institutionalized groups from participating in elections. The threat of a ballot measure creates some unusual bedfellows between the state’s largest and most influential political players. Oregon’s public employee unions and business community have collaborated on election reforms that retain institutional engagement without giving one side too much of an advantage. They have the attention of Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvalis), a longtime champion of campaign finance reform, and others in political leadership. If there was ever a moment for campaign finance reform to advance, this session seems the most likely. Still, like the drug reforms, it’s a race against the clock.

Changing Clocks

Speaking of clocks, the Senate almost cleared the way this week for Oregon to prevent time from springing forward in March and falling back in November. For five years, the legislature has considered proposals to end the time change, but each attempt collapsed without similar commitments from neighboring states. On Tuesday, SB 1548, which would have embraced permanent standard time, stalled on the Senate floor with a tied vote before the chamber agreed to send the bill back to committee for a “trigger” amendment requiring other states to make the same change. While the time change garners strong emotions, there seems to be an agreement that Oregon should not be an island of daylight savings or standard time in the Pacific Northwest.

What We're Reading This Week

  • On Monday, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson announced she would withdraw from the contested Democratic primary for Oregon’s fifth congressional district. Today, Denyc Boles, a former legislator, also announced she would back out of the Republican primary for the sixth district.
  • The Oregon Health Authority is under the microscope for not publishing a taxpayer-funded report suggesting taxes on adult beverages do not deter consumption, raising questions from some over whether the decision was politically motivated.
  • Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland) announced he would run for state treasurer, challenging another legislator whom he has butted heads with over wildfire response funding.
  • In his weekly column, Dick Hughes writes about the commotion over bills and deadlines, providing some insight into the chaos fueling the building.
  • And finally, in an article published in Tax Notes State, a trade publication for tax professionals, Nikki Dobay and I discuss Oregon’s supermajority requirement for bills raising revenue and some of the workaround games the legislature plays to raise taxes by only a simple majority vote. (Note: The article is under an exclusivity agreement with the publisher but will be available online next month.)
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