Legislature opens session with crush of bills, but important legislation still to be seen
The 80th Legislative Assembly opened Tuesday, Jan. 22, and already more than 1,600 bills have been introduced. Most will never even get a hearing.
“Bills that are presession-filed consist mostly of agency bills, public requests and untried ideas for improving Oregon,” said OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel. Organizations and the general public can ask their legislators to draft bills, and bills can be sponsored by individual legislators or by legislative policy committees.
Many of the early bills are pet projects, small additions to the law or rehashes of past bills. The blockbuster bills related to revenue reform and education have not been seen yet, according to Sattenspiel. The Joint Committee on Student Success, which will likely handle the key education-related measures, has not revealed its bills.
OSBA has committed to pressing the 2019 Legislature for revenue reform and cost containment to provide adequate and stable funding for schools.
Even before the legislators took their seats, the legislative screws had begun tightening to squeeze about a hundred laws out of likely more than 3,000 bills. Legislators had until Jan. 18 to submit an unlimited number of measures to Legislative Counsel. After Jan. 18, they are limited to five more.
All measures must be submitted to the Legislative Counsel to be prepared in legislative language and assigned a legislative concept number. Legislators must file their legislative concepts with the secretary of the Senate or the chief clerk of the House for them to become bills.
Bills must have a “first reading” before the House speaker or the Senate president can assign them to committees. For House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, much of their power lies in deciding which bills will go to a committee and whether that bill will go to a friendly or hostile committee. Committee chairs, chosen by the speaker and president, decide whether the bill actually receives a hearing.
Legislators have until March 29 to maneuver their bill for a scheduled work session in a policy committee in their chamber. After that, the bill is dead, unless unusual procedural steps are taken.
Most bill deadlines don’t apply to the House Revenue and Rules committees, the Senate’s Rules Committee and Finance and Revenue Committee, and all joint committees. The Senate president can also pluck a bill from a policy committee and place it in a committee that can keep it alive. In the House, the speaker can move a bill from a policy committee if the committee formally requests the move.
There are also ways around the legislators’ bill limit. In the House, committees can file a bill with the approval of the speaker. In the Senate, committees can file up to four bills after Jan. 18, and the Senate president can approve the drafting of additional bill proposals by committees or members.
As a more common tactic, legislators and committees file placeholder measures that are assigned numbers and can be filled out later. There is also a practice known as “gut and stuff,” in which an existing bill’s language is stripped out and replaced with language that is “relating to” the original bill.
Sattenspiel has been combing through the bills and has already identified nearly 300 bills pertinent to school districts that her team will be watching. Dozens of bills touch on issues such as the Public Employees Retirement System, student health and safety, and school employee rights as well as instructional requirements.
Among the notable early bills is a bill calling for education funding to meet the Quality Education Model, Senate Bill 552, and the return of two contentious bills to make class size a mandatory subject of collective bargaining, House Bill 2526 and House Bill 2580. But as with all the other bills, it’s too early to know the bills’ chances of making it to the key “third reading” and votes on the House and Senate floors.
- Jake Arnold and Richard Donovan, OSBA