Oregon lawmakers convened virtually this week to receive updates from state agencies responding to the multitude of emergencies and disasters occurring throughout the state. These include the ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic and economic recession as well as efforts to contain the historic wildfires spanning the state. The interim hearings were heavy on substance and relatively light on political pomp, which is unusual for this time of the election cycle but, perhaps, expected given the unfamiliar nature of holding all hearings remotely from home offices and kitchen counters instead of the hearing rooms of the capitol. All the same, the legislature has a knack for making its presence known.
On Sept. 14, Gov. Kate Brown announced she would veto certain budget actions from the special budget session to preserve resources to respond to the firefighting efforts. The Oregon Constitution authorizes the governor to issue line-item vetoes of appropriation bills and provisions requiring a policy bill to take effect immediately. For general policy bills, however, the Constitution only provides the ability for a governor to approve or reject an enacted measure. These limitations are at the core of an ongoing dispute between the executive and legislative branches. One of the vetoed measures appropriates funds while also establishing statutory policy, and the legislature is considering suing the governor to prevent the veto from setting a precedent that could potentially broaden executive veto powers.
Meanwhile, in the legislature’s virtual committee rooms, the revenue forecast was the featured act of the week. State economists announced revenues rebounded much quicker and stronger than initially expected, in large part due to federal aid to individuals and businesses, erasing the immediate budget cliff anticipated only a few months ago. In other committees, lawmakers received updates from state agencies on disaster responses and, later today, the Joint Emergency Board will continue its work to appropriate funds to support those efforts.