Dems look to pass big bills in Oregon Legislature

While Republicans hope to slow session down

Legislative session expected to be heated

BEND, Ore. - Oregon’s 2018 legislative session, which begins Monday, is shaping up to be a game of tug of war -- on a short rope.

With just 35 days to get their work done and go home, under a voter-approved limit, lawmakers will be crunched for time.

Short sessions are typically meant for small budget adjustments and emergency bills, but this year, Democrats are looking to make moves on some major policies.

James Foster, an emeritus professor of political science at OSU-Cascades, said heads are likely to butt between the two parties.

"There’s going to be a lot of potential clash between the Republicans, who are basically holding up a stop sign, saying, 'Let's go slow, this is a short session, we have some crucial things to attend to,' and (Gov.) Kate Brown and the other D’s saying, 'Look, we got this long agenda, we got everything from gun control to PERS reform to opioid crisis, you name it, we got to get some action,'" Foster said. 

But that action might be tough to come by in just six weeks. 

"In a way, it’s less than 35 days, because most bills have to be assigned to a committee, have to have hearings held, have to be adopted by a committee -- that’s 13 days away," Foster said.

"I will be very surprised if any major legislation comes out of this session, and if its going to be anything, it’s going to be this cap and invest bill," Foster said.

The cap and invest (also known as cap and trade) proposal looks to put a cap on carbon emissions among Oregon industries. If passed, it would set a cap on total greenhouse gas emissions statewide. That would apply to about 100 of the state’s biggest polluters, starting in 2021.

Polluting businesses would be able to buy allowances to cover their emissions, and that money would be invested in local projects to protect against climate change.

"It’s not an either-or situation, it’s not a zero-sum situation," Foster said. "The investments could help a lot of Oregonians to get jobs, the cap could be negotiated in a market that’s created by the bill. But it probably will be end up being debated in those stale categories -- the Republicans saying it’s going to harm jobs and cost employers and D’s saying it’s going to protect the environment."

The proposal was modeled after a program in California. It specifies certain industries that qualify, including cement manufacturing, paper mills, food processing plants and iron and steel mills. However, agriculture and forestry operations would not be regulated. 

"There are lots of demands and, of course, those demands are complicated by the fact that people want to present themselves as strong as possible. Kate Brown wants to be an advocate for Central Oregon, as does (Rep.) Knute Buehler, who lives here," Foster said.

Buehler is running for the Republican nomination for governor to take on Brown, who’s held the office since 2015. Sunriver state Rep. Gene Whisnant is also retiring at the end of this year. 

"I generally see this as a compressed pressure cooker session, and part of the heat is going to be generated by elections in Central Oregon," Foster said.

Other contentious bills on the table address the opioid epidemic, public school, net neutrality and gun violence.

But according to Foster, the recent passage of Measure 101 regarding Medicare and Medicaid costs changed the entire focus of this upcoming session.

"Absolutely -- I mean, the Legislature dodged a bullet with 101 passing, because it would have created the huge revenue hole in the budget. It’s not permanent, by the way -- nothing in politics is definitive or ultimate. It’s a temporary patch, a temporary fix on Medicare and Medicaid funding in the state."

NewsChannel 21 will be in Salem next week for opening day of legislative session, talking with local lawmakers about their priorities.

Reports will begin on NewsChannel 21 Fox at Four on Monday.

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