What’s the matter with the Oregon Legislature as it starts holding meetings next week to get ready for the 2022 legislative session? Nothing new.
Not everything about Oregon is nice. Our legislators run for office to make things nicer — in their own way.
But when they introduce their bills and amendments to bills to make Oregon nicer, our legislators sometimes hide. They don’t say: “This is my bill to make Oregon nicer.” They don’t say: “I was the one who introduced this amendment.”
Not all bills or amendments are like that. Just some. They can be fairly mundane. They can be controversial.
There was an anonymous bill that would slap new taxes on coffee, a few cents per pound. The money raised in the 2017 bill — an estimated $2 million — would have gone to schools. Taxes generally have some sort of connection between the thing being taxed and where the money is going. This one had no such connection. The bill had no clear sponsor. It died.
There was another idea in 2017 — tax people more if they own old cars. It would have required people who own vehicles 20 years old or older to pay $1,000 every five years. Maybe that would have been good in a way. Older vehicles are not necessarily efficient and can be less safe. But poorer people can also own older vehicles. Does Oregon really want to smack it to the poor? Nope. No legislator put their name on that bill, either. It died.
You don’t have to reach back so far to find anonymously submitted bills and amendments. In 2020, Senate Bill 1702 was introduced during second special session. It was not a simple issue. It would have directly impacted some 50,000 people and cost the state about $9 million a year. It would have enabled some people working in education to get unemployment benefits they usually are not entitled to. They are expected to return to work after summer recess or between academic terms so they don’t get unemployment benefits. The state’s employment department would do a check. If they were likely to return to work, no benefits. If they were not likely, benefits. The bill would have just given them benefits. A significant change. No legislators put their names on the bill. It died.
Legislators get away with not connecting their names directly with these ideas and more because they can. They allow each other to hide what they are doing and conceal from the public who is responsible for some bills. How can the public hold their legislators accountable if legislators aren’t required to declare who truly did what? The Legislature robs the public of basic accountability.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Some legislators have tried to change it in the past. The legislators could write into their rules a simple requirement for accountability on every bill and amendment in the 2022 session — list the names of the legislators. They could even put their names on who wanted the rule. That would be nice.