PORTLAND — The Oregon Legislature adjourned last week, but don’t expect the state Capitol to remain quiet for long.
Gov. John Kitzhaber says he will continue to seek support for a package of cuts to public pensions and new taxes and is willing to call the Legislature into special session if he thinks he has the votes.
Even if a special session isn’t in the cards, lawmakers have until September to prepare bills for the 35-day session that will convene in February and there’s already plenty of unfinished business from this year’s session that will likely return.
While the legislative roster is unlikely to change much, short sessions can take on a different flavor as lawmakers prepare for spring primary races ahead of next year’s general election.
“What you do in this short session has a much greater chance of generating primary opponents,” said Jim Moore, a Pacific University political science professor. “It’s more politically fraught.”
Here’s a look at what you’re likely to see next year, based on the unfinished business of this year’s Legislature.
Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, pushed for the Senate to vote on bills that would bar guns from school grounds and implement universal background checks, but neither bill came to a vote. Burdick said she still thinks there’s public support for additional gun controls.
“Not being able to get a vote on either of those things was very frustrating,” Burdick said. “Universal background checks is definitely doable in a short session.”
A pair of bills backed by environmentalists that were defeated in the Senate are expected to return in some form. House Bill 3162 would have added regulations to 19 “high priority chemicals of concern,” including arsenic and cadmium. It passed the House but failed to get a vote in the Senate. Senate Bill 488 would have removed the sunset on a statewide clean fuel standard. It died in the Senate when Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, voted with the chamber’s 14 Republicans.
Senate Bill 633, a controversial bill that would have prevented local governments from regulating seeds, a response to local initiatives to bar genetically-modified crops, failed to pass the House this year. Its supporters are expected to bring the bill back next year, and a citizen initiative in Lane County to install local rules could give the issue a boost.
Health payment oversight
Senate Bill 753 would have boosted electronic methods of rooting out faulty or fraudulent government medical payments passed the Senate unanimously but failed to get a vote in the House. Republicans will reintroduce the measure in 2014.
Ballot measure influence
Lawmakers often send issues to the ballot in short sessions, sometimes to pre-empt a ballot measure that the majority finds problematic. A constitutional amendment that would legalize gay marriage is expected to be on the November ballot and could be joined by a measure legalizing marijuana. Lawmakers aren’t expected to take up gay marriage, but they might weigh in on marijuana. Liberalizing or privatizing the state’s liquor control system also is being talked about and a ballot measure that would allow public employees who opt out of unions to skip paying dues is expected to qualify for the ballot. Either could prompt legislative action.
Legislators were happily caught off guard in May when state economists unveiled a forecast for robust growth over the next two years. In the short term, that gave the Legislature an additional $270 million. If the forecast holds, lawmakers could get another windfall. That would lead to a small-scale budget process as state agencies lobby for a slice of the funds.
Prepaid cell phone tax
Under Oregon law, any phone that can dial 911 is subject to a tax that funds emergency call centers. Most phone companies pass that charge on to consumers in their monthly bills. But prepaid cell phone users don’t get monthly bills and many don’t pay the tax. State law requires the wireless carriers to pay for their customers, but not all do. An effort during the 2013 session to establish a new method of collecting the tax each time a prepaid customer buys minutes for a phone failed to reach the bipartisan consensus needed for a super-majority tax vote. But prepaid phones make up a growing portion of the cell phone market, threatening the stability of tax revenue for 911 services. In the waning days of the session, many lawmakers vowed to return to the issue next year.
Senior medical deduction
Oregon has a unique tax deduction for those 62 and older allowing them to deduct medical expenses. Over the next eight years the deduction is expected to cost the state $1 billion. Lawmakers tweaked the deduction this year, limiting it to seniors rather than their entire households. Larger reform is a priority for Gov. John Kitzhaber and Burdick, who chairs the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee.