SALEM — Monday was the first of up to 160 days of the 2019 legislative session. Last week’s organizational meetings were all about ceremony — legislators sworn-in and Gov. Kate Brown inaugurated.
Now family and friends have gone home, the cake crumbs have been picked up from office parties, and business starts. The clock is ticking toward the mandatory end of session no later than June 30.
There are over 1,400 bills at the starting line, with more to come. If history is a guide, a few have a shot of making it all the way to the governor’s desk.
Though both the House and Senate met Monday for floor sessions, there wasn’t much to do. In the Senate, the chamber sang “Happy Birthday” to two lawmakers. In the House, Whitney Houston’s energetic recording of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played.
For now, committees will be doing the heavy lifting as bills make their first — and sometimes last — stop through the lawmaking gauntlet.
A few side notes from under and around a suddenly very busy Capitol:
Different job, same building
Ben Schimmoller of Bend may have lost his 2018 race for the state House, but he made it to the Capitol after all. Schimmoller has been hired as a legislative aide in the office of Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend. “I’m just glad to be able to serve in some way,” Schimmoller said Tuesday. New Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, won last May’s GOP primary for the 53rd House District — beating Schimmoller by two votes in one of the closest elections in Oregon history. Schimmoller’s campaign manager was Reagan Knopp, the senator’s son. Zika went on to win the general election against Democrat Eileen Kiely of Sunriver. The former opponents will get plenty of chances to work together — Zika is a co-sponsor with Knopp on several bills this session.
Buehler passes the ball to Clem
Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, is the newest holder of the Westlund Baseball, an informal trophy handed down to a baseball-loving lawmaker who seeks to work “across the aisle” with the other political party in Capitol. The ball had been held by former Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, who stepped down from the House to make an unsuccessful bid for governor. Buehler said he chose Clem for his “leadership and dedication to working across party lines on policy and developing real friendships. Most importantly, putting Oregonians’ needs before party loyalty.” Buehler had received the ball in 2016 from Rep. Brent Barton, D-Oregon City, who opted not to seek re-election. The ball is named for the late Ben Westlund, a former Republican state lawmaker from Tumalo, who later made an aborted run for governor as an independent, then was elected state treasurer as a Democrat. Westlund died in office in 2010.
Knopp wears hope on his feet
A popular gift item at the Capitol gift shop are three different sets of socks patterned after the distinctively different patterned carpeting of the chambers of the House and Senate, as well as the governor’s office. Knopp says he is hoping both parties in both chambers can work together in 2019. As a stylistic symbol of his commitment, he tweeted a photo of his feet during the Jan. 14 inauguration of Brown. Knopp wore a House sock on one foot and a Senate sock on the other.
Bentz wants to name an official state grass
Every session brings resolutions asking the Legislature to designate an “official” this or that. The 2019 session is no different, with most attention going to House Concurrent Resolution 7, which would designate the border collie as the official state dog. It’s sponsored by Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale. Getting less press is Senate Concurrent Resolution 5, which would designate basin wildrye as the “official state grass.” It’s sponsored by Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, whose sprawling Senate District 30 includes much of Eastern Oregon, along with all of Jefferson County and a northern slice of Deschutes County. The resolution points out that “basin wildrye (Leymus cinereus) grows up to 10 feet tall and is the largest cool-season perennial bunchgrass native to the western United States.” In the resolution, Bentz highlights basin wildrye’s long history of use by Native Americans and that it grows in 18 Oregon counties. Bentz wrote that other states have already named an official grass, and Oregon should “cement” its claim on basin wildrye with his resolution. “A state grass would help to develop awareness of the frequently underappreciated region of Oregon that lies east of the Cascade Mountains,” Bentz wrote in the bill.
Dems switching chairs
Jeanne Atkins, the chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, told a party member last week that she will step down as party chair. “I have a number of personal reasons for this decision — all of which can be summed up by saying I’ve got to make space, as I cross into my 70s, to commit to my family and to myself,” Atkins wrote in an open letter to party members. Atkins led the party as it racked up major victories in the November election, including supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature and Brown’s election to a full term as governor. Voters also backed the Democrats’ position on a slate of ballot measures. Atkins was appointed Secretary of State in 2015 by Brown soon after Brown became governor on the resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber. Prior to that, she was state director for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. Atkins did not seek the Secretary of State’s Office in 2016, which was won by Republican Dennis Richardson. Republican state chair Bill Currier is seeking another term, but is opposed by Bend businessman Sam Carpenter, a former GOP primary candidate for governor and U.S. Senate.
Long and short of it.
Odd-numbered years like 2019 are when legislators assemble for the “long session,” which under state law must adjourn no later than June 30. The nearly half-year long marathon is the main business time for the House and Senate during a two-year cycle. Even-numbered years are for the 35-day “short session,” a comparative sprint.
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