Something has to give as pressure mounts to move bills in the House
Monday, April 5, 2021
Between Republicans' delaying tactics and technical problems, bills were stacking up last week in the House with a voting deadline fast approaching. And then COVID-19 placed a cork on the House, building the pressure.
Lobbyists are urging legislative leaders to change how Salem does its business. I have been in the Capitol for more than 20 years, and I’ve never seen a week like last week, with so much needing to be done and so many paths forward blocked.
With most bills needing to have a committee vote by April 13, leaders may need to soon prioritize key bills, such as for the Oregon Department of Education and the State School Fund.
For education advocates, it cuts both ways. Bills opposed by education advocates that have a fighting chance could get sidelined by the blockade, but widely supported and necessary bills could also get left behind as the clock runs out. The Legislature has a set end date and firm deadlines that bills must clear to keep moving.
The work session deadline of April 13 means a bill in its originating chamber must move out of committee or it is most likely dead. (The deadline doesn’t apply to all committees, and there are legislative maneuvers in rare circumstances.)
Generally, this is a time of frantic committee work as they rush bills to the floor for chamber votes. But the House floor was shut down for safety early last week after a person on the floor tested positive for COVID-19. No floor sessions meant no advancing the calendar and no bills voted on to move out of the House. More than 100 bills wait on the House’s third reading calendar, when bills get their full chamber votes. The second reading, a procedural step, also backed up, preventing bills from even getting to the floor.
The Senate is moving bills out of committee and to the Senate floor without as much deliberate slowing as in the House chamber. Senate Republicans are giving rules suspension on specific bills, but others must be read in full before a debate and vote. Although bills are moving better in the Senate, they still will get stuck behind the House backlog.
A recent conversation with the leadership of the Capitol Club, an organization for lobbyists, included a lot of venting but also some constructive suggestions for better public participation. People who watch these meetings as a profession would like to see some sort of screen notice when a committee is having technical problems. It would also help the public following along at home if the screen showed the number of the bill being considered.
Early on, there was hope of a return to in-person sessions, much like our schools, but after two positive tests in the Capitol and growing community spread, that looks increasingly unlikely.
Now we are just looking for more efficient ways to move bills along so that students and schools get the support they deserve.