What’s what in our government… Let’s get smarter about the Oregon legislature and its short sessions

by Dannelle D. Stevens, Election Integrity Study Group

Given the old idea that Oregon is a small state and does not need a full-time legislature, our state legislature does not meet full time. This worked when Oregon was simply a farming and logging state. Oregon is very different now. Yet, over two years, the state legislature meets for one long session of 160 days (second Monday in January through the end of June) on odd-numbered years, and one short session of 35 days (February 1 to March 7) on even-numbered years. Then the cycle begins again.

How do our representatives prepare for these sessions? Is what happens in the short session different from what happens in the longer one? In 2022, the Oregon House (40 members) and Senate (20 members) will have a short session of five weeks. Given its limited duration, traditionally this shorter session was meant for doing “cleanup” type bills or bills that address technical issues. However, this is not always the case and many legislators work on larger policy issues. The decisions about what will be the legislative priorities are being made NOW before Thanksgiving.

Really, folks!

Our Democratic representatives are requested by the party leader (Tina Kotek, House; Peter Courtney, Senate) to identify only TWO bills each to be considered during this short session.

Check out https://oregonlegislature.gov, where you will see the invitation to become engaged during November 15-18: “Opportunity to be engaged with committees and hearings.” If you have an issue you think is important, you had better sound off now because each rep must give their ideas for the two bills in November. That will be the work that the legislature will consider.

When the legislature is in session for these short periods, their work is intense. Things get left by the wayside in the rush to get legislation done in this short window. Look at the campaign finance initiative passed overwhelmingly by the voters in 2020 (72% in favor). The legislature was charged with creating the policies to enact this vote. No, they did not do this. Now, another effort by the voters must be launched. More voter energy is wasted on something we already told the legislature to do. Was it because there was not time? Just ask your representative.

There are some problematic assumptions about these short sessions. It is critical that we rethink the assumption that it is best for Oregon to have a part-time legislature. Oregon will now have six representatives in the U.S. Congress because of the population increases in the state. An increase in population size means an increase in needs. Government services need to be evaluated to support this increasing population from the DMV to the unemployment office to wildfire prevention. A part-time legislature has less time to attend to the state’s needs and less time to hear from the constituents.These legislators have to prioritize their actions. The voters lose.

We need a full-time legislature. What do you think?

Followup on redistricting from my August “What’s What” article. The realigned district maps are being challenged by the Republicans, but most observers believe the district lines will be sustained by the courts. A clear update (with maps) can be found at this link: https://ballotpedia.org/Oregon_State_Legislature

Dannelle D. Stevens is Precinct Committee Person (PCP) and Neighborhood Leader in District 41 (Inner SE Portland). Her interest in civic awareness started as a high school social studies teacher and led her to being a (now retired) teacher educator from Portland State University.

Photo credit: Wikipedia/public domain