Oregon lawmakers spent the first seven weeks of the session mostly in virtual committee rooms exploring a wide range of sweeping policy. This far into the session, the legislature has introduced more than 2,400 measures and held hearings on nearly 800. The lull in regular floor proceedings and other in-person activities provided the committees with more time in the legislative schedule for hearings on controversial issues. That environment should start to fundamentally change over the next couple of weeks with the first major milestone of the session in sight and the gears of the legislature turning on.
The deliberations over the feasibility or virtue of legislation are common in any session. This year, however, the primary dialogue seems to be over the practicality of working through dynamic and far-reaching policy in the virtual environment. The committees are currently entrenched in expansive policy debates over proposals to overhaul the state’s recycling system, implement the recently passed drug decriminalization ballot measure, and significantly reform and raise a whole host of taxes. These issues would typically drive the politics of any session, but, in this environment, they are merely examples of the extensive workload before lawmakers this session.
The chamber of origin deadline, a self-imposed deadline requiring the policy committees to advance bills, serves as a crucial legislative tool to filter out the session’s unworkable measures. If a policy committee does not schedule a bill for a vote by March 19, it will become effectively dead for the session. These deadlines usually prevent nearly half of a session’s measures from moving forward in the legislative process. In a session with an incredible number of measures introduced, the deadline represents an opportunity to start focusing the attention of the legislature on the issues that will drive the remaining three months of the session.
Coinciding with the looming deadline, the House and Senate are beginning to schedule additional days of floor sessions to prepare for the committees to open the floodgates and start sending bills for their final vote. Usually, the committees start sending measures to the floor very early into the session to avoid long floor sessions caused by a bottleneck of bills. In this session, however, the logjam seems unavoidable due to the delay in committee activity and the sheer volume of measures. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but in a session resembling a sprint rather than a marathon, the deadlines should change the legislature’s pace over the coming weeks as the gears turn back on.