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By Harry Esteve
March 1, 2014
SALEM – Maybe it’s the influence of the recent Winter Olympics, but listening to the hallway chatter about Oregon’s annual legislative sessions is like channeling Nancy Kerrigan after her 1994 knee-whacking.
Complaints about the additional even-year meeting have increased as the session winds down, with the overriding concern that the hurry-up schedule could cause bad legislation to slip through.
“We’ve had entirely new policy concepts introduced,” said Alan Tresidder, a veteran lobbyist with State Street Solutions. “If you look at the Voters’ Pamphlet statement and what was said about annual sessions, it wasn’t any of this stuff. We’re dealing with stuff all over the map.”
Tresidder isn’t the only one who has soured on what was supposed to be the Legislature’s big move toward greater relevance. Other lobbyists talk about the session as though it’s one big political rally for the upcoming election season. A Republican leader described it as “a political free-for-all” and said the compact timeline shortchanges Oregonians, especially those outside the Portland-Eugene corridor, on meaningful participation.
The new way of doing things still has staunch defenders, who say it brings Oregon out of the political backwater. But at the very least, the voter-approved expansion into yearly gatherings seems to have hit its first existential mini-crisis.
In addition to complaints from lobbyists and some members, one otherwise stalwart supporter of annual sessions has offered a bill to increase the number of days in the even-year session to 45 instead of the current 35-day limit. The bill would reduce the time limit in odd years by 10 days, keeping the total number of days the same.
“I just think 35 is too short to do good policy work,” said Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin. “It’s fine for the budget,” but not for the dozens of other bills lawmakers tackle. Devlin said he meant his bill to be a “conversation starter” and expects any changes to the annual session calendar would take several years.
Until four years ago, the Legislature met only in odd-numbered years, although special sessions could be called at any time. In 2008 and 2010, under the urging of Senate President Peter Courtney, lawmakers called themselves into special “supplemental” sessions as an experiment. The idea was to prove to voters they could hold a short, effective off-year session.
It worked. Voters approved annual sessions in 2010. The first “real” even-year session was in 2012 and got generally positive reviews. This is the second, and some of the sheen appears to have worn off.
“I hear the grumblings here or there,” said Courtney, D-Salem. But he said he has no interest in retreating. To Courtney, it’s a question of balancing the power.
“The governor is in his office 24/7,” he said. “Administrative agencies are working every week. So your Legislature is supposed to meet every 18 months? I don’t get it.”
Griping about the annual session began even before the session started, with accusations that lawmakers were introducing bills to provide ammunition in this fall’s elections. Those accusations only sharpened as the session proceeded.
House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, called out House Bill 4143, which would redirect unclaimed class-action lawsuit proceeds to legal services for the poor. Opponents say the bill is unconstitutional and erodes defendants’ rights.
“Because of the short session, House Democrats ran that bill for absolutely partisan reasons to gain advantage in campaigns,” McLane said. “My complaint is that it’s gone from budget adjustments and minor policy changes to a free-for-all on the policy side that is not vetted, lacks citizen participation and is aimed at campaigns.”
He suggests that annual sessions end or, barring that, the number of policy bills be severely curtailed and supermajority votes be required to pass bills in short sessions.
Paulette Pyle, a longtime lobbyist who represents the pesticide industry, said she thinks it’s a mistake to call lawmakers to Salem shortly before most of them run for re-election. The result is far more attention to maintaining or gaining seats than to passing good laws, said Pyle, who would prefer to return to meeting every other year.
“It’s a temptation as a politician to put something out there that’s provocative to the public,” Pyle said.
Not that the public would have much time to respond. For a good part of the session, committees met to consider bills with only one hour of notice, making it nearly impossible for average Oregonians to track legislation and offer input. Bills that weren’t scheduled for a committee vote by the end of the first week died. The timeline was just too compressed, many said.
“It does the whole body a disservice,” Tresidder said. “My concern is the short session doesn’t give the public enough time to have any input.”
Russ Dondero, retired political science professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove, said Oregon faces too many complex problems to have its main lawmaking body gather only once every two years.
“Whether it’s school funding, whether its urban-rural issues, the Legislature needs to be addressing these on an annual basis,” Dondero said.
He said he would prefer the Legislature meet six months each year instead of holding what he calls a “truncated” session in the even years. It takes time to build relationships, and that’s when the best policy-making occurs, he said.
“I believe in government,” Dondero said. “I believe in an activist government. I believe that compromise across the aisle is better when people have a longer time to think about the issues and talk about the issues.”
– Harry Esteve
– Yuxing Zheng
George Okulitch and Alan Tresidder, of State Street Solutions, a local Government Affairs advocacy and lobby firm, announced today the addition of two new members that have joined their firm for 2014.
Molly McGrew recently joined State Street solutions as the Director of Business Development and Government Relations. She has an extensive business career including software start-ups and successful launches of multiple pharmaceutical and biotech medications throughout the Northwest and California. Her background also includes multiple years working for candidates and Legislators in Oregon.
Her background includes over 20 years of work with businesses such as Wellero, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, Janssen, Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson, and political work with Senator Richard Devlin, former State Representative Ryan Deckert and many others.
She graduated from the Atkinson Graduate School of Management in 2000 with a Masters of Business and Public Administration (MBA, MPA), and Marketing and Human Resources. Prior to that, she studied at Portland State University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and History.
Molly@statestreetsolutions.com | 971.226.0182
Rebecca Tweed joins our firm as our Political and Communications Director. Rebecca has been a political consultant and campaign manager in Oregon for the last nine years and during that time has worked on over 40 different campaigns varying from city council, mayoral, judicial, ballot measures, and state representative races across the state. She served as the Political Director for the Oregon House Republican Caucus where she worked on the key campaigns leading the Oregon House to a historical 30-30 tie between Republicans and Democrats in 2010.
She graduated from Syracuse University with Bachelor’s Degrees in Political Science, Philosophy, and Public Policy. After graduating college, she worked as an International Story Developer at Fox News in New York City before returning to Oregon.
She has also worked with non-political clients such as law firms, small local businesses and non-profits, doing fundraising, public relations, social media management, media training and communications development.
Rebecca@statestreetsolutions.com | 503. 860.6033
State Street Solutions is a full-service government relations and contract lobbying firm, whose team collectively has over 40 years of experience working in Salem.
For the ODA, the 2013 legislative session was a continued success in furthering the oral health for all Oregonians. On February 27, 2013 a group of over 45 devoted dentists and dental students from around the state joined together in Salem for a common purpose – to educate our elected officials on the importance of oral health. Kicked off by a welcome from Speaker fo the House Rep. Tina Kotek in the morning, ODA dental advocates visited with over 40 legislators over the course of the day. In addition to legislative meetings, the Capitol galleria was filled with tables providing the general public with oral health information, toothbrushes and information on how to become a dentist. The DFO Tooth Taxi parked on the capitol steps and provided care all day to the kids from the Salem Boys and Girls Club.
Thank you to all member dentists who participated in the ODA Lobby in Salem and provided testimony on behalf of the ODA in the 2013 Legislative Session, without you the following bills would not have passed.