SALEM — The two chambers of the Oregon Legislature have flip-flopped on the speed of their lawmaking, with a Senate boycott by Republicans over, but a slowdown on dealing with bills enforced by Republicans in the House. With several major initiatives, from taxes to carbon caps, unfinished — plus much of the state budget — lawmakers are nervously eyeing the calendar.
Under state law, the Legislature must adjourn by June 30. That leaves about six weeks to get things done. The House is trying to catch up by holding sessions on Fridays — usually a day off for lawmakers to go back to their districts.
Even with the political intrigue, work is getting done with some bills important to Central Oregon at or near the finish line. Here’s a snapshot of some of what is going on under the rotunda:
‘Kaylee’s Law’ up for final vote Thursday
Senate Bill 576, named “Kaylee’s Law” after a Bend woman who was murdered in 2016 by a Central Oregon Community College security guard, is getting a rare special treatment — again.
On Wednesday, the bill to reform the type of equipment and limit the actions of campus security guards was listed as up for a vote by the full House. But it was behind dozens of other measures. With Republicans slowing the pace of the House by requiring all bills be read in full, the timetable for a vote was uncertain.
Now the bill has been made a “special order of business” in the House for Thursday, meaning it moves to the front of the conveyor belt of legislation. A similar bipartisan move was made in the Senate, which also suspended its rules to allow Kaylee Sawyer’s family to sit with lawmakers on the floor during the April 23 vote — which was unanimous.
Sawyer’s relatives are expected to attend the Thursday vote — the final step before the bill goes to Gov. Kate Brown, who has said she is looking forward to signing it.
Fire danger planning
House Bill 2222, a bill to require the Oregon Department of Forestry to submit an annual report to the Legislature on whether fire safety notifications and certifications are being implemented, has won unanimous approval in the House and Senate. It now goes to the governor for her signature.
Supporters say the mandatory report is especially important in light of recent wildfires in California that swept through formerly rural areas that have become increasingly populated.
It’s a potential problem that is fast-growing in Central Oregon as well.
“This legislation will add teeth and reinforce previous wildfire protection legislation,” said Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, one of the legislation’s chief co-sponsors.
The other chief co-sponsors of the bill are Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles; Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend; and Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose.
Senate says yes to Jamie
Former U.S. House candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner, of Terrebonne, was confirmed by the Senate on Monday to a seat on the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. The board provides state grants for projects to protect or restore watersheds and natural habitats.
McLeod-Skinner was nominated by Brown, a fellow Democrat. McLeod-Skinner lost the 2nd Congressional District race in 2018 to Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, though she received more votes than Walden in Bend and Deschutes County. She’s expressed an interest to remain in politics, perhaps with a rematch against Walden in 2020.
Maxwell marches on
Tributes to Medal of Honor recipient Bob Maxwell, of Bend, were made in the Capitol this week as news spread of his death Saturday at age 98.
The House paused for a moment of silence at the beginning of the Tuesday session to remember Maxwell, who received the nation’s highest medal for valor in World War II. Accolades from lawmakers continued to come in.
• “Bob Maxwell was the embodiment of the American spirit, quick-thinking, selfless, and refusing to blink when everything was on the line — we were indeed blessed to have a man of such character and integrity walk among us,” said House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass.
• “It was an honor to know Bob Maxwell, a true American hero and friend of mine,” Helt said. “He never stopped advocating, serving, and inspiring our community. He was a true hero of mine. I am praying for his family today and wishing them peace in this sad time.”
• “Few in history showed the courage that Bob Maxwell did as a young man,” said Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte. “He gave of himself all his life, and Central Oregon will always remember him.”
• “We lost a true American hero who earned our nation’s highest military honors,” Zika said. “He was humble about his accomplishments and cared more about others. He will be greatly missed.”
Recalling a high-speed quorum ‘walkout’
Republicans and Democrats have negotiated a halt to this session’s GOP Senate walkout. But the event had some Salem veterans recalling earlier quorum-call walkouts. Or, in the case of former Sen. Neil Bryant, R-Bend, a runout.
Bryant serves as chairman of the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission. Before the commission’s May 9 meeting, he told a story from 1993, his first year as a lawmaker learning the ways of Salem.
Bryant recalled Senate Democrats had a narrow majority. A bill dealing with airports that was important to several Republican lawmakers was stalling during floor debate. Sen. Majority Leader Dick Springer, D-Portland, was about to give the bill the kiss of death — have it returned to committee. He had the votes. There was little Sen. Eugene Timms, R-Burns, the minority leader could do — except one thing.
Quickly deny a quorum of 20 senators on the floor.
“Suddenly, the minority leader and the whip said ‘RUN! Get off the floor!’” Bryant recalled. “I was next to a more experienced senator and I said, ‘What are we doing?’ and he said, ‘Go to your car and get out of town, otherwise the Oregon State Police will find you and bring you back.’ Instead I ran to the other side of the Capitol and hid in Bev Clarno’s office — I figured they wouldn’t dare search there.” Clarno, now secretary of state, was then the speaker of the majority Republican House.
Bryant recalled one senator who skittered into a public bathroom in the Capitol, went into a stall, sat on the seat and pulled his legs up to his chest so no one would see him. “He was there a long time.”
Asked what happened with the Oregon State Police, Bryant said the officers were likely not very motivated with the task of tracking down absent lawmakers. “We voted on their budget.”
Clarno served as House speaker and Senate Republican leader earlier in her political career.
While recalling some of the colorful adventures of previous walkouts by both Republicans and Democrats, Clarno said in the end there are hard feelings — as well as voters having a view of the Legislature as dysfunctional.
This year is no different.
“It’s getting near end of session when everything is very tense,” Clarno said.
“I hope legislators will come together and do people’s work and not bicker. I think that is real important for credibility with people who are paying the bills.”
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, firstname.lastname@example.org