Measure 71 Annual Sessions: It is not what you think

Measure 71 – Continuing Annual Sessions – Limited (sort of)
By  John Ledger
Associated Oregon Industries

How this works, it’s not what you might think.

There are few things that affect your business as much as a legislative session. In about a week you will get a chance to vote on Measure 71. Annual Sessions for the Oregon Legislature. Let’s take a look at what Measure 71 would change.

Here is where we are now:
In odd years – “Regular Session.” No limit on session length.

In odd or even years – “Special Sessions.” Called by Legislature. No limit on number or length.

Here is where we would be with Measure 71:
In odd years – “Regular Session.” Soft-limited to 160 calendar days – can be extended by unlimited number of five day extensions with 2/3s vote of each house.

Also in odd years – “Organizational Session” to occur just before “Regular Session.” No limit on length.

In even years – “Even Year Session.” Soft-limited to 35 calendar days – can be extended by unlimited number of five day extensions with 2/3s vote of each house.

In odd or even years – “Special Sessions.” Called by Legislature. No limit on number or length.

What are the reasons they are doing this?

The primary reasons cited are that state government has become so complex, issues so pressing, and situations so unpredictable that more frequent meetings of the Legislature are necessary if the state is to be governed responsibly. There are also claims that it would, at least partially, correct an imbalance between the legislative and executive branches of state government, although this argument is puzzling since the Legislature spends much of its time trying to transfer entire blocks of lawmaking authority from itself to executive branch agencies. There are other attractions less strategic. The measure would increase the chances of a legislator’s favored bill becoming law. With annual sessions, bills that die can be resurrected and run again that much sooner, so simple probability means there will be passage of a wider range of bills. Plus, legislators enjoy meeting – it’s a big event.

Will they meet more often?

Yes, but how much more is tough to say. The key is Special Sessions. Historically, Special Sessions were relatively rare and ad hoc, but recently the situation has changed. For the last two biennia the Legislature scheduled and held even-year Special Sessions as a sort of a public demonstration (amongst other reasons) of Measure 71. So, in effect, we already have Annual Sessions. Given this, the big difference under Measure 71 is that at least one session of some type would be mandated by the Constitution in every even-year, not be optional as is now the case. Indeed, even if Measure 71 fails, the Legislature could continue to hold Regular odd year sessions plus even-year Special Sessions forever. Or they could go back to odd years only. It will be up to them.

Will they meet for more days in total?

Almost surely. The analysis is complicated, but we can make some assumptions:

Boyle’s Gas Law assumes that a gas released into a defined space will always expand to fill it.  Likewise, we can expect the Regular and Even Year Sessions to fill at least the soft-limitation, (e.g., 160 days in odd years and 35 for even).

It’s a good bet there will always be an Odd Year Organizational Session preceding and congruent with, the Odd Year Regular Session. The 2011 Odd Year Organizational Session has already been set out by the Legislature to be 21 days, but there are no mandated time limits under Measure 71.

So, in 2011, under Measure 71 we may well see a 21 day Organizational Session followed by a 160 day Odd Year Regular Session, followed by a 35 day Even Year Session. Assuming there are no Special Sessions, extensions or any other legislative caboose, we have a biennial duration of 216 days. This adds perhaps two weeks, but it could vary widely and the Legislature can always call itself into Special Session for as long and as often as it likes. Measure 71 is not withstanding.

In the end, sessions will be more predictable as far as dates and duration, but not a lot more. We will know for sure that they will come into session every year, which they may do anyway, and there will be more pressure to adjourn by specific dates. The Organizational Session that precedes the Regular Session can be as long as they wish, so it will act as a legislatively-determined front-loaded extension to the 160 day limit. There are lots of ways around what appear straightforward constraints. Maybe that’s wise.

Measure 71 is supported by some in the print media, backed by groups such as the League of Woman Voters and the Public Employee Unions. You can read it yourself here.

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