Oregon lawmakers began their 35-day “short” session on Monday, largely picking up where they left off on the issues and uncertainty that dominated their last session. The threat of another walkout by Republicans continues to overshadow the regular course of business in the legislature and has, perhaps temporarily, shifted the balance of power in the building.
The politics of carbon and the cap-and-trade measure have emerged as an inescapable cloud hanging over the building. Democrats have prioritized the issue as their most important policy priority of the session. Meanwhile, Republicans have positioned its downfall as the only means of keeping them in the building. The clashing of these positions, coupled with the time constraints of the short session, represent a significant realignment of the balance of power in the building. If there is any pathway for the cap-and-trade bill to advance out of the State Senate, Democrats may have to cede control over the trajectory of the session and every bill party to it.
On Thursday, a convoy of loggers, farmers, and truckers converged on the capitol to rally against the climate bill with semi-trucks circling the building throughout the day blasting their horns to make their presence known. It succeeded. During a morning committee hearing on an innocuous bill, the noise of the trucks had overwhelmed proceedings and created a tense exchange between the chair and other members of the committee, leading to members from both parties storming out of the room.
The tension will come to a head next week over the first major deadline of the session. If a bill is not scheduled for a work session (vote) in a policy committee by close of business today and voted on by Thursday, February 13, the measure will become effectively dead for the remainder of the session. The deadline has created a race to convince leadership and committee chairs to schedule hearings to keep policy proposals on life support but, in the end, the fate of these bills may be decided at the whims of a higher politic.