The last thing Oregonians need are legislators who don’t ask questions. Yet House Speaker Tina Kotek on Wednesday asked legislators on a committee preparing for the upcoming special session not to question people who showed up to testify.
“I don’t want to do questions for the public,” said Kotek, a Portland Democrat. “I just want to be really clear. Public does not come here to be questioned. So they will have as much time as they need to make their testimony. Members (of the Legislature) are fair game, but the public are not.”
If that’s the way Kotek wants the special session to be run, Oregonians could be in trouble.
The meeting on Wednesday was held to set the stage for a session devoted to a single bill proposed by Gov. Kate Brown. The bill aims to lower the taxes for some small-business owners. Brown’s proposal would extend a tax break to sole proprietorships that some other small businesses in the state already get. Brown has said as many as 12,000 small businesses will benefit and see their taxes lowered from 9.9 percent to 7 percent.
There are important debates to be had over why and if it should be done, if it should have a sunset and if it should be crafted to be revenue neutral.
The committee heard from Brown, several lawmakers and members of the public. But it’s important to note that the people who Kotek didn’t want to be questioned weren’t people who just wandered in off the street for the hearing.
Except for a student, “the public” were all lobbyists or representatives of powerful organizations seeking to shape the legislation. Two unions testified, including the Oregon’s teachers union, as well as the League of Women Voters, an organization dedicated to raising corporate taxes, and more. They can handle questions. They may not want to be questioned, but why should they be able to testify and not allowed to be challenged or questioned at all? And yes, there was plenty of time for questions.
Democrats do hold a majority in both houses of the Legislature, but it should not use that power to strangle questions about legislation.