Committee advances Ore. special session bills

Lawmakers get to work after 10-hour delay over details

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SALEM, Ore. -- An Oregon legislative committee late Tuesday began advancing a series of bills tackling changes to pensions, taxes and agricultural regulations.

The action came after a 10-hour delay, setting the stage for votes in the full House and Senate today, although more delays were possible.

Gov. John Kitzhaber reached an agreement with legislative leaders Sept. 18 and called lawmakers into a special session starting Monday. Kitzhaber had hoped to work out the kinks and line up votes ahead of time, but the quick time frame left several key sticking points to be bridged. The governor and senior legislators spent much of Monday and Tuesday ironing out details and lining up votes.

Many lawmakers were reluctant to vote so quickly on some of the bills, particularly the complicated tax and pension measures.

In private meetings, Republicans and Democrats debated largely technical points, such as how to ensure that a tax break for small businesses doesn't become too costly and how to define which businesses should qualify.

Variety of issues

The proposed pension cuts would reduce the annual inflation increase in retirees' checks.

Under the tax changes, higher-income individuals and certain businesses would face a higher tax bill. Cigarette and tobacco taxes would go up. Some low-wage workers and certain types of businesses would see a lower tax bill.

Local governments would be prohibited from regulating seeds and seed products. The measure is an attempt to supersede emerging efforts by environmentalists and organic food proponents to ban genetically modified crops at the county level in response to what they see as a lack of action by the state and federal governments.

Proponents say the changes are needed to free up money for struggling schools. Critics include public employees who say the state shouldn't be taking benefits promised to retirees, and environmentalists who say a measure on genetically modified crops has no place in the deal.