SALEM — Lawmakers raced against the clock Sunday, hammering out dozens of bills as the midnight constitutional deadline to adjourn for the year ticked ever closer.
The 2019 session of the Legislature ended just before 5:30 p.m. Sunday, with lawmakers using all but 6 1⁄2 hours of the 160-day session. Several pieces of the state’s two-year budget were approved, along with a slew of bills dealing with paid family medical leave, foster care, campaign finance reform, higher education spending, earned income tax credits, and a 2020 voter initiative for a tobacco tax.
The last hours brought a mix of wins and losses for the Bend area, which failed to get a new circuit court judge for Deschutes County. But college construction funds were approved and the “Christmas Tree” bill of lawmakers’ pet projects left a few presents for the region.
The focus now turns to Gov. Kate Brown, to sign or veto bills. She can also strike out budget line items.
With large majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats pursued initiatives that many had wanted for years, sometimes decades.
They sacrificed a few major initiatives to quiet Republican revolts, but Democratic leaders said they were more than happy with their overall win-loss record.
“The significant accomplishments this Legislature achieved were many years in the making and will benefit Oregonians for many years to come,” said House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.
House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, said early this year the GOP wouldn’t be “even speedbumps” against the supermajority’s legislative juggernaut. The few Republican victories came from parliamentary guerrilla tactics. Senate Republicans walked out twice with Democrats killing bills on gun control, mandatory vaccines and a carbon emissions cap to get them back to Salem. House Republicans slowed Democrats by requiring that bills be read in full before votes, then having members give long speeches. But overall, Wilson said, the Democrats got their way in 2019.
“Oregon is on the wrong track,” Wilson said. “When Republicans regain the majority, we will advance an agenda that supports working families and makes Oregon a more affordable place to work and live.”
The weekend session was a contrast in efficiency and civility.
Saturday saw a rapidly moving conveyor belt of bills, with the Senate moving 105 bills in one day.
On Sunday, cracks in the patina of cooperation appeared. The House continued to move forward smoothly. But in the Senate, drama returned. Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, had said Saturday that relations had been cordial with Democrats after the walkout. A day later, animosity flared.
Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, and Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, got into a midmorning shouting match on the Senate floor, according to the Salem Statesman-Journal.
“You don’t get to shut down the government and call us dictators,” Fagan shouted. “I said I don’t want to talk to you, Dallas. Walk away.”
“Just like a dictator,” Heard shouted back as he turned away.
It wouldn’t be the last incident of the day. As with much of the last two weeks, the turmoil centered again around Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, whose violent rhetoric just before the walkout made international news.
Boquist stayed away from the Senate floor Saturday. When he returned Sunday, Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, walked out, saying she told Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, she did not feel safe with Boquist back.
“The Senate president invited me to leave,” Gelser wrote on Twitter. “This was his choice.”
With Gelser “excused” from attending, the Senate took up House Bill 2001, whose chief sponsor was Speaker Kotek. The bill allowed “middle housing” such as duplexes zoned for single-family residences. Kotek had negotiated for months to get Republican buy-in. Changes satisfied Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, a real estate agent, who endorsed the bill. It passed the House on June 20 on a bipartisan 41-16 vote, with Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, joining Zika in voting yes.
Swift Senate approval was expected Sunday. But Democrats were shocked when the vote tally stood at 15-13. More than half the 30 members of the Senate had to vote yes to pass. Gelser’s absence threatened to kill the bill. After a hasty recess, Boquist was gone. Gelser was back. A few votes shifted. On its second try, HB 2001 passed 17-9, with Knopp voting yes.
More local items
The Bend area benefited from votes on the last day. The Legislature approved $8 million in funding for the expansion of the Redmond campus of Central Oregon Community College, $10 million for Deschutes Water Basin irrigation piping, $250,000 for the High Desert Museum renovation and a $1 million program that could include the creation of a “sobering center” in Bend. Some items were in HB 5050, the number this year of the annual “Christmas Tree” bill that funds lawmakers’ personal local wishlist.
“It’s more like the pork roll bill,” tweeted Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer.
The budget also includes $300 million in university construction bonds to be allocated next year. The larger-than-expected pot of money increases the chance Oregon State University-Cascades could get $17 million to go toward a proposed Student Success Center. The Bend campus has already started raising $5 million more for the project through an increase in student fees.
The biggest disappointment was lawmakers did not fund a new circuit court judge for Deschutes County. In January, House Bill 2239 was introduced at the request of Oregon Supreme Court Justice Martha Walters. It would create 14 new circuit court judges in 12 counties. Deschutes County would go from seven to eight judges.
By late March, the bill stalled in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. The decision on new judges was rolled into House Bill 2377, an omnibus package dealing with several state programs.
When the bill emerged from the committee, there were only two judgeships — one each in Marion County and Jackson County. A bid to amend the bill to include Deschutes County hit a brick wall of lawmakers intent on making no stops in sending bills to the finish line, as is.
During the House vote Sunday on the bill, Helt protested the process.
“I have a heavy heart for all the people in criminal justice in Deschutes County,” Helt said.
Deschutes County was ranked first by both the Oregon Supreme Court and the governor’s office as needing more judges, Helt argued.
“We have not had a new judge since 2002, while we have 57,000 more people,” she said.
The bill passed 51-4. Helt voted no. Sent to the Senate, the bill was approved 24-2, with Knopp voting no.
With their last votes, lawmakers voted to “sine die,” a Latin term signifying adjournment without a future date. Lawmaking was over — at least for now. But circle Monday, Feb. 3, on the calendar. That’s when the 2020 session of the Legislature will be gaveled to order.
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, firstname.lastname@example.org