Oregon lawmakers return to the state capitol Monday for a legislative session that’s sure to be packed with drama.
Republican Shelly Boshart Davis is in her first term representing her Albany-area House district. That means it’s her first time serving in the capitol during the five-week session that occurs in even-numbered years.
She said there’s far more tension in the air than last year in the run-up to the long session. “You could really cut it with a knife. It’s very intense,” said Boshart Davis. “It’s hard to compare it to anything, as I haven’t been around. But it sounds like those that have been around, it’s hard for even them to compare it to anything.”
The so-called short session is, on the face of things, a time for lawmakers to patch up the budget and deal with emergencies. Of course, what constitutes an emergency is a matter of opinion.
“I’m one of those who believes the budget should be one of the primary things we look at,” said Rep. John Lively, D-Springfield, who will be serving in his fourth short session as a state representative.
But even Lively thinks there are other pressing matters that lawmakers should take up. For instance, he thinks they should consider emergency funding to build more low-income housing. He said homelessness is a problem that reaches across the state, including his Springfield district.
“It may not be as visible in some extent in Springfield as it is with larger cities, but it’s a huge challenge and there’s families faced with that," said Lively. "So from my standpoint, the more we can do immediately to start addressing homelessness, that will help my community.”
But patching up the budget and trying to reduce homelessness isn’t what’s causing so much heartburn at the capitol this winter. Democrats say they’ll take another shot at passing a sweeping climate change bill. In response, Republicans in the state Senate say they’re considering a repeat of last year’s walk-outs that ground legislative business to a halt.
That prospect frustrates Democrats like Sen. James Manning of Eugene. "I gotta say, from some of the chatter I’ve been hearing, I’m hopeful but I’m pessimistic at the same time. We only have five weeks to get the work of the people of Oregon done,” he said.
If Republicans do leave town to deny Democrats a quorum, it could throw many other bills into limbo. That includes a bonding measure for Oregon universities.
Steve Clark, the VP for University Relations at Oregon State University, said the school is asking lawmakers to approve $76 million in bonds to fund three projects—two at the main campus in Corvallis and one at the OSU Cascades campus in Bend. “We really strongly believe that these are legitimate investments, not only in Oregon’s economy but the prosperity and wellness of Oregonians,” said Clark.
To get the funding, OSU will not only have to convince the legislature of the need for the money, but also hope lawmakers actually stick around the capitol to take votes. Due to the compressed time frame of the session, enough a short Republican walk-out could effectively kill many pieces of legislation.
Even if a walk-out doesn't happen, it's still a whirlwind, especially for relative newcomers such as Rep. Gary Leif, R-Roseburg. He said some lawmakers have told him the short sessions are easy, since they go by quickly compared to the five-month session in odd-numbered years. “But I’ve also heard other people say it’s long and grueling hours, even though it’s short. So that’s to be determined," said Leif.
"I’ll tell you after the session’s over,” he added.