There’s less than a month to go before the Oregon Legislature’s 2018 session gets underway. As our representatives and senators gather in Salem, they should decide, collectively or individually, to give up the practice of hiding behind the anonymity of “committee bills,” measures proposed without a lawmaker’s name attached.
Twice in the last two years, the Legislature’s Republicans have sought to end the use of committee bills, with limited success. In 2016 the House approved a rule change that bans anonymous committee amendments, but efforts last year to end the secrecy altogether stalled.
Oregonians deserve better.
The 2017 legislative session made that clear. A handful of admittedly silly anonymous bills — a tax on coffee and new fees for older cars — may have been laughable, but there were more serious anonymous bills, as well.
One would have barred owners of second homes or large primary homes from deducting mortgage interest payments on their state income taxes. Another would have charged some Oregon businesses a gross receipts tax, and a third would have raised income taxes on well-heeled, single-income tax filers.
It’s not hard to guess why each of those measures was a committee bill, rather than one sponsored by specific lawmakers. When raising taxes or proposing changes that clearly will be unpopular, no one wants to take the blame. That’s true for members of most political parties, no doubt, though Republicans were at least willing to give openness the benefit of the doubt in 2017.
Oregonians have a right to expect at least a bit of courage from their lawmakers. At the very least, they have a right to know who is responsible for each and every bill the Legislature considers.
We vote for specific lawmakers because we believe in what they stand for and against, presumably. But the use of anonymous committee bills defeats citizens’ efforts to discover just what their elected officials really do believe.