SALEM — Frustration, fatigue and flashes of anger came to the surface during a rare Saturday session of a stressed-out legislature.
The weekend work was scheduled because of the looming July 10 deadline to adjourn. At one point midafternoon, the House was holding a floor session at the same time four major committees were shoveling bills by the bushel to the House and Senate floors.
Action on abortion, highways, marijuana, crime, education, the governor’s office budget and dozens of other issues were brought up for votes and moved along, from committee to floor, from floor to governor.
With five months gone and as few as five days left in the 2017 session, lawmakers were looking forward to voting soon on Senate Concurrent Resolution 31 — the statement officially ending the tumultuous year.
The abortion vote was the most high-profile source of tension in the Capitol.
The House approved the Reproductive Health Equity Act 33-23. Its key section requires insurance companies to cover legal abortions. The bill now goes to the Senate.
“This bill is about equity, about the economy and about public health,” said Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, author of the legislation.
Nerves were on edge when alarms went off in the House. Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, stopped debate and told everyone to stand by.
But there were no intruders or natural disaster. The alarms were set off by a piece of toast stuck in a toaster in the Democrat leadership offices.
House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, tried to have the bill returned to committee for revision. His aggressive approach had Kotek warning him he was risking censure and McLane claiming Kotek ignored Democrats impugning his integrity.
Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, said he was pro-choice, but would vote no because the bill was bad public policy.
The Republicans made up the majority of those rising to speak as the debate reached its end.
“This is rapidly failing the smell test,” said Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass. But, he said, the issue was larger than just the bill. He didn’t even need to say the word.
“That subject is threatening to blow the session apart,” he warned.
Anti-abortion Republicans joined in with more raw, emotional opposition.
“I can’t reconcile in my mind how anyone who has a walk with God can support this bill,” said Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany.
On the road to a vote
The newly svelte seven-year, $5.3 billion transportation package emerged Friday from the broken shell of the original 10-year, $8.2 billion plan. Gov. Kate Brown brokered a deal with lawmakers and some industry and environmental groups.
The gas tax would rise from 30 to 34 cents per gallon, with new payroll and new car fees under 1 percent each. Higher vehicle registration fees, a $15 surcharge on expensive bicycles and possible tolls on Portland-area interstates would pay for a collection of projects more numerous but less expensive than in the original bill. Republicans received concessions that loosen the state’s low-carbon fuel standards.
Deschutes County would receive $53 million over the next decade, while Bend would get $20 million.
The transformation and quick vote on the bill were criticized by Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who saw the work of 14 lawmakers over five months turned into a closed-door deal.
“We’re not even going to talk about the financials?” Johnson said. “I know we’re in a hurry, but this is a lot of money.”
Asked if he wanted to comment one last time before the vote, Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, declined.
“All I want is dinner and a drink,” he said.
The Joint Transportation Modernization and Preservation Committee approved the bill 12-2, with a frustrated Johnson one of two no votes.
Rash in rules
Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, said Saturday would be her time in the Democrats’ “three-ring circus.”
Parrish appeared before the House Rules Committee to chastise members for legislation that would require a vote on an initiative attempt to overturn the health provider tax be held in January, rather than November, if enough signatures were submitted. Parrish called the plan “voter suppression.”
“Are you here today as a consultant or a legislator?” asked Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis.
Parrish had been a paid adviser to Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, the only Republican in statewide office. She is backing efforts to gather signatures to overturn the provider tax, which she says shifts the cost from one set of residents to another.
Parrish fired back with committee Democrats’ connections to the Nurses Association and the progressive FuturePAC.
“The five Democrats on this committee, collectively, you have taken a million dollars,” Parrish said of special interest funds.
Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, the committee chair, verbally put herself between Rayfield and Parrish.
“OK, OK, we’re going to take it down a notch,” Williamson said.
Parrish got up to leave, then turned with one last thought.
“Have a great Fourth of July.”
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