The legislature is now more than halfway through its session with much work still remaining before the final gavels fall. In the initial weeks of the session, lawmakers prioritized housing and semiconductors, sometimes feeling like a special session specifically on those initiatives. With the early policy and spending packages either on the governor's desk or signed into law, the legislature is pivoting to its other priorities.
During the last week, policy committees scrambled to prepare amendments and establish consensus among members to advance bills through the process. In some cases, bills proceeded out of committee without the bipartisanship that has marked many of the session's earlier policies. To a degree, that is to be expected, but it also risks charging dormant partisanship.
An example is SB 348, which moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on its last day to advance a policy bill. Originally, the bill was a simple study bill (a placeholder, in our parlance) but received a gut-and-stuff amendment building on the gun controls included in a voter-enacted measure last fall, currently tied up in the courts. Republicans are riled up over the last-minute amendment, calling it a subversion of the legal process and an attempt to erode their constituent's constitutional rights.
All this is to say that Democrats and Republicans, who played well with each other in the session's early days, are starting to establish their normal partisan fault lines. Earlier in the week, some lawmakers made their feelings blatant, saying they wouldn't vote for a bill simply because it came from a member of the other party. While that may be typical in Washington, D.C., it is atypical behavior in the Oregon legislature. Time will only tell if this is a temporary mood or a new direction for the rest of the session.
Legislature Expected to Slow Down Next Week
Tuesday marked the completion of the legislature's first deadline of the session, requiring a measure to move out of its original policy committee or falter for the session. Among the 2,908 bills introduced for the session, 1,550 remain alive, which is slightly more than average for the legislature at this point in the session. Notably, those figures include measures in the rules, budget, tax, and special committees, where the deadlines do not apply. Also, the number does not represent the caliber of measures still in play this session. With guns, abortion, industry regulations, and many others active, there will be no shortage of topics to drive the remaining months.
The legislative chamber must first work through the third readings (votes) on the measures advanced by the policy committees, and that task will consume a lot of the legislature's bandwidth during floor sessions in the days and weeks ahead. In the Senate, Republicans are requiring the chamber to read the entirety of each bill before voting, creating a backlog of 60 bills on the third reading list for Monday alone. House Republicans are not requiring readings for most measures. Still, their calendar includes 35 bills and resolutions.
Earlier this week, the presiding officers ordered committees to cancel or not schedule any hearings for at least Monday and Tuesday to allow marathon floor sessions to work through the third reading calendar. It is unlikely two days is enough time for lawmakers to debate, vote, and, in some cases, read all the bills, but the additional time should create a dent in the daunting list.
What We're Reading This Week
- Gov. Tina Kotek (D) announced this week the state would end its policy of reimbursing the travel expenses for employees to travel from their homes outside Oregon for work activities. The announcement comes as the Senate unanimously passed a measure ending the practice with the entire chamber listed as a sponsor.
- On Thursday, the House passed the initial policy and spending package aimed at luring investments from semiconductor manufacturers. Now, the legislature plans to navigate a tax incentives package, with difficult decisions over eligibility and overall cost.
- During the 2021 session, Democrats tried to pass a new tax on phone lines to pay for expanded 9-8-8 crisis prevention services but failed to find the votes. Now, legislators and advocacy groups hope they can find enough support to meet the supermajority vote requirement.
- The Oregonian reports the state experienced one of the largest increases in homelessness in the nation. The report says Oregon's homeless population increased by 23 percent between 2020 and 2022.
- The City of Portland's Revenue Division, which administers local income taxes for governments across the region, told the Willamette Week that a countywide capital gains tax on the special election ballot in May is so complex that 50 percent of annual revenues could go to administration.
- KGW reports on the initial state budget and the little discretionary spending available to the legislature.