Editorial: Short legislative session needs limits

Published Mar 4, 2014 at 12:01AM

In 2010, Oregon voters approved annual legislative sessions to allow lawmakers to react to emergencies and deal with vital services in a timely way. Previously, the legislators met every other year, with emergency special sessions as needed.

The 2010 measure limited the sessions to 160 days in odd-numbered years and 35 in even-numbered years. The idea was to deal with urgent, changing issues in the short sessions, while tackling more complex problems in the longer ones.

That’s not how it’s playing out. Legislators this year have filed bills on a wide range of new and old topics, many of which are neither urgent nor suitable for quick action.

Some lawmakers and lobbyists have complained that the short sessions, occurring in election years, have become hyper-partisan and campaign-focused. There’s worry that complex issues aren’t getting the attention they need, and that things are moving too fast for the public to react and be heard.

Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, has proposed shifting 10 days from the long session to the short one, according to The Oregonian, while Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, suggests dumping the short sessions or placing sharp controls on the number of bills introduced and requiring supermajority votes to pass them.

While we share concerns about what’s happening, we don’t think dumping the short session and going back to the old way is the answer. The state has grown since the days when legislators could meet every two years. The executive, judicial and regulatory arms of government are in full swing all the time. Jumping in with special legislative sessions on an emergency basis isn’t enough in today’s world.

Shifting a few days from the long to the short session might help a little, but almost certainly not enough. And nothing will prevent legislative sessions from being partisan, election year or not.

It may take a while to sort out the best meeting schedule for the Legislature, but in the meantime, we like McLane’s idea of limiting the number and type of bills that can be introduced in the short session. That would restore the concept behind the voters’ 2010 decision to add an even-year session.