The 78th Legislative Assembly adjourned its regular session on Thursday, three days ahead of its March 6 deadline.
Lawmakers were expected to continue through the workweek and possibly into the weekend, because Republicans in the Senate had acted to slow the process.
But after a deal was brokered Wednesday between top legislators, Senate Republicans, content they had made their point by slowing votes, lifted their demand that bills be read aloud, and voting moved forward at breakneck pace.
Dozens of bills have made it through both chambers and onto Gov. Kate Brown’s desk for a signature. Few have been signed as they await legal vetting, and Brown, who faces reelection in November, has been reluctant to comment publicly on legislation for that reason.
At press conferences, Brown has commended progress on her agenda and said there is work left to be done. When asked directly whether she’ll sign or veto specific bills, Brown says every bill will be considered as it reaches her desk.
The adjournment Thursday couldn’t come soon enough for some lawmakers. Many Republican legislators have said that the 2016 session was the worst they had seen.
Democrats hold majorities in the House and Senate, and several landmark progressive policies were passed through the chambers receiving only Democratic support, to the chagrin of the minority Republicans.
House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said after adjournment that the politics of the Democrats resembled “an ugliness that has only been seen in politics on the East Coast.”
For the most part, the mood in the Capitol lightened Thursday with a special appearance in the Senate by Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem. Winters has been recovering from heart surgery, which prevented her from participating in the legislative session. She thanked her Senate colleagues for their support during her recovery.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said the Senate hadn’t been complete without Winters, who has been called a unifying voice of the normally collegial Senate chamber.
“I’m so pleased you’re here. It just lifts my heart,” Courtney said to Winters on the Senate floor.
Despite partisanship, accusations of corruption and even palpable anger at times, the Legislature did not adjourn its five-week session without passing a few substantial bills.
Three policy issues dominated the session.
First was minimum wage, Gov. Kate Brown’s top priority for the session. After about a year of work, tense negotiations and eventual compromise, both chambers passed a novel bill to increase the minimum wage. Brown signed that bill into law Wednesday. The minimum wage bill was one of the few that was decided totally along partisan lines.
The law creates three regional minimum wage tiers:one for rural counties, one for Portland and one for the rest of the state. The minimum wage in each tier will increase incrementally each year for six years, with the rural minimum wage topping out at $12.50, the Portland wage at $14.75 and the “everywhere else” wage at $13.50.
The second major policy area involved renewable energy. The bill that eventually passed will require Oregon to stop getting electricity from coal by 2040. It also requires the state to get at least 50 percent of its power from renewable energy.
The bill had almost no support among Republicans, many of whom said there wasn’t enough public vetting of the policy. The situation got worse when it was revealed the Public Utility Commission, which represents ratepayer interests, were told by Brown’s office not to speak about the bill with the media.
Republicans stalled the bill, and in the Senate even walked out — a bold display of outrage. Democrats, who hold a supermajority in the Senate, used procedural tactics to eventually pass the bill. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, called the bill an unexpected win.
The last major group of policies aimed at addressing Oregon’s affordable housing crisis. A package of bills with mixed support among Democrats and Republicans moved through both chambers on an all-or-nothing basis for lawmakers and lobbyists. One of the bills grants new protections to tenants, including a ban on rent increases during the first year of month-to-month tenancies, and 90-day notices for other rent increases. Another ends longstanding bans on inclusionary zoning and construction excise taxes. Inclusionary zoning allows municipalities to require housing be sold or rented at below market value, usually in exchange for developer incentives. The bill also requires revenue from the construction excise tax to be spent on affordable housing. Other bills will guide spending on affordable housing and homelessness relief programs.
Democrats pursued most of their agenda to victory this the session. But to reach Thursday’ adjournment agreement, Democrats negotiated to leave some bills off the docket. A bill that would remove wolves from the endangered species list was passed. A bill that would have required licensing of tobacco retailers was given up by Democrats. A bill that would have bolstered the state’s gun sales background check system also died after it was passed by the House.
Lawmakers are already picking up scraps of their bills off the floor and beginning to work on resurrection strategies for when the Legislature convenes again, in February 2017.
[email protected], (503) 399-6653, on Twitter @gordonrfriedman or Facebook.com/gordonrfriedman
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