Oregon Legislature nears session's end

By

Published:

 

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Legislature has passed several notable changes this session, but much important work -- such as creating a state spending plan — is yet to be completed.

With six weeks to go before legislators have to pack up and leave Salem, here's a look at what's done, what's left to do and what's still up in the air.

WHAT'S DONE

• Columbia River bridge: The Oregon Legislature did its part by committing $450 million to fund a new Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River. Before the plan can move forward, though, Washington state must come up with its matching share and the U.S. Coast Guard must issue a key permit. Neither are guarantees.

• Immigrant rights: Oregon immigrant advocates will walk away happy this session after checking off two major legislative priorities. In April, Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law a bill granting resident college tuition rates to students brought to the country illegally as children. A month later, Kitzhaber signed a measure allowing people living in the state illegally to get four-year driver's licenses. Two Republican state representatives are sponsoring a referendum in an attempt to repeal the driver's license law.

• Public-employee pensions: Democrats who control the Legislature cut pension benefits for retired government workers, primarily by scaling back inflation adjustments. The move will save hundreds of millions of dollars for state and local governments that were facing steep increases in their pension contributions July 1.

WHAT'S LEFT

• Public-employee pensions: Even with those cuts enacted, the governor and many lawmakers are still itching to do more. The governor offered a plan last month that he billed as a compromise, but it managed to bring only the Democrats on board. Republicans pitched a proposal of their own Thursday, but Democrats weren't sold.

• Budget: Partisan wrangling over the budget continues as the clock ticks closer to June 30, the deadline for passing a new spending plan. Lawmakers have approved spending authority for only a handful of small agencies. Decisions about how much to spend on the big stuff -- prisons, education and social services -- will depend largely on what happens with the debate over public-employee pensions and a related discussion on Democratic demands for new tax revenue.

WHAT'S UP IN THE AIR

• Guns: A package of watered-down gun bills never made it to the full Senate after it became clear they didn't have the votes to pass. The bills remain alive in the Senate Rules Committee, where some supporters are holding out hope for a compromise.

• Timber counties: Lawmakers are seriously considering plans to intervene in the state's timber counties, which are running out of money. One measure would allow the state to impose a temporary income tax on county residents. It would be matched by state dollars to pay for public safety.

• Voter Registration: The secretary of state is pushing a bill that would automatically register everyone with an Oregon driver's license to vote.