SALEM — Thursday is the half-time, the mid-point, the “hump day,” of the 2018 session of the Legislature. It’s the 18th day of the 35-day 2018 session, with 17 days before it and 17 days after.
Increasingly, the calendar and clock will play a paramount role in what gets done and what gets left behind in the “short session.”
Two bills that are key legislative goals of Democrats will face important tests on Thursday.
House Bill 4145, the “boyfriend loophole” gun bill, is scheduled for a vote in the Senate. It’s already passed the House, and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-2 to send it to the Senate floor with a “do pass” recommendation. The bill would expand a law barring those convicted of domestic violence from possessing firearms to include people who are not related by marriage, children or joint residence.
The dwindling time left in the session is a key reason that proponents of the carbon “cap-and-invest” program may jettison the second half of their plan — for now — in order to lighten the legislative load needed to get it across the finish line.
An amendment to be heard Thursday in the House Rules Committee would alter House Bill 4001 to include just the cap — a plan to curb emissions by the 100 biggest polluters in the state to 80 percent of 1990s levels by 2050. But the exact mechanism for reaching the goal would be left until the 2019 legislative session.
The bill would still need to pass the House before going to the Senate, where it could have an even tougher time getting to a vote.
During a meeting with the press before the start of the session, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said he did not believe that the short session was the right time to deal with complex issues.
The Legislature can stay in session until the constitutionally mandated deadline of March 11. But in reality, most lawmakers have March 9 circled as the day to hang it up until 2019. Since even-numbered “short sessions” began in 2012, the Legislature has never gone the full 35 days.
There are even rumblings — perhaps wishful thinking — that the session could end as early as the end of next week, just before legions of Republicans descend on Salem for the Dorchester Conference, the annual meeting that serves as a de facto political convention for the GOP. But that is likely too tight a deadline to wrap things up.
“That would shock me,” said Robin Maxey, the spokesman for Senate Democratic leadership. “Always want to avoid going right up against the deadline, but next week would be very early.”
Even without an early departure, lawmakers are already parsing what they want to try to get done and what they can leave behind for the 160-day session next year — after the November 2018 election.
Officially, Thursday is the final day that bills passed by one chamber of the Legislature must be scheduled for a work session in the other chamber. But lawmakers have used joint hearings to speed up the process, and bills that are in the House or Senate Rules committees, or in Joint Ways & Means, are not subject to the procedural deadlines.
Evidence of the difference in expectations between the House and Senate on what can get done in the time remaining can be seen in the list of measures currently assigned to the Joint Ways & Means Committee. Of the 68 bills, 12 are from the Senate and 46 from the House.
Bend-area issues are still on the burner. A bill to ban a bridge over the Deschutes River is in the Joint Ways & Means Committee. No additional action is currently scheduled. Joint Ways & Means protects the bill from automatically expiring. But the committee is also historically a legislative purgatory that some bills never leave.
No mention has been made of Gov. Kate Brown’s request for $39 million for OSU-Cascades, but capital construction projects usually are dealt with in an omnibus bill near the very end of a session.
The wild card in all this is that the rules can be suspended, bills can be amended and anything can get done as long as there is political will and the votes to back it up. Nothing is truly done until the gavels fall on the final adjournment.
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