Light at the end of the tunnel: Escape or oncoming train?
Monday, March 22, 2021
We made it! The first deadline of the 81st Oregon Legislative Assembly was Friday, March 19. I have never been so happy to have a deadline.
This first checkpoint offers some sort of dim light way down at the end of the session tunnel. The session must be completed by June 27 this year. The first deadline narrows the field of eligible bills we have to keep an eye on. Currently, the OSBA Legislative Services department is tracking about 500 bills. Given the virtual session and the various hiccups with technology, this first deadline could not come soon enough.
This posting deadline affects policy committees such as the House and Senate Education committees. Bills had to have been scheduled by Friday for a work session to get a vote out of committee, and the work session must take place by April 13th.
Of course, in the Legislature there is always a way around the deadlines. Joint committees and the revenue and rules committees aren’t subject to the deadlines, and there are other parliamentary maneuvers.
Last week, a bill we were working on wasn’t quite ready for the next hearing, and House Speaker Tina Kotek said, “I’ll let the committee chair know to keep this bill alive.” If the speaker wants something done, it tends to happen.
This year the deadlines feel especially meaningful. With COVID-19 and the virtual legislative session, limited in-person House and Senate floor sessions mean the work isn’t getting done very efficiently. As Sen. Michael Dembrow, the Senate Education Committee chair, noted in his March 16 newsletter, “House Meets (Slowly) On Monday and Tuesday.”
To slow down the work, House Republicans are still insisting that every bill be read aloud in its entirety before debate and voting. Extra evening sessions can’t make up the lost time. On Monday, the House passed only six bills. On Thursday, they passed 12 bills with the help of an evening session.
Principal Legislative Analyst Laurie Byerly noted in a committee hearing last week that by now in a normal session the Legislature would have completed about 30 budget bills. This year they have done one. Wow. Just wow.
With the session a third of the way done, virtual committees moving slowly and the reading of bills slowing things further, I would like to see the leadership regroup and reassess the process to complete this legislative session. Committees meet twice per week virtually, often scheduling more bills than can be heard, which is frustrating. We get told there isn’t enough time to hear all who signed up to testify so we can submit our written comments on the record, but our time waiting in front of our screens has been wasted. If I were in the building, I could leave the hearing and work with other people on two or three items while waiting for my bill to be heard.
Friday’s deadline indicates which bills have enough support to move another step, giving OSBA a better idea of which bills need our attention. In the coming week, we will sort through the remaining issues and keep you updated as the good and the bad rise to the surface.
If you have questions or concerns about any bills, feel free to contact Legislative services. Thanks to the deadline, we have just a bit more light to shine on the process.