Annual Sessions bad for business, Oregon

By Jan Meekcoms
Oregon NFIB

Just like Oregon, Wyoming voters were sold on the need for annual Legislative sessions. Unlike Oregon, Wyoming was wooed into annual sessions for the purpose of fine tuning the state budget and dealing with emergency matters – that’s all, just the budget and any emergency matters that might exist at the moment. Now that makes sense to me. You could even add technical fixes required of bills passed in the previous session. That would serve Oregonians well.

Instead, Measure 71, which was passed in November 2010 as a result of Senate Joint Resolution 41, changed Oregon’s Constitution from biennial sessions in odd-years with no limit to the length of session, to annual sessions of 160 days in odd-numbered years and 35 days in even-numbered years. Limits to the length of sessions – this is good. However, there is a rub – there were no limitations to the focus of the short session or what issues could be considered. The even-year 35-day session is a potential smorgasbord of issues both big and small with no sideboards.

In 2010 there was an attempt to amend SJR 41 to limit actions by the Legislature during the short 35-day session. Unfortunately that attempt failed. The 2014 session lasted 31 days, during which time 247 bills were introduced plus 199 resolutions and memorials with 121 bills passing. In that mix were some big issues for small business such as two separate revision bills to the small business reduced tax rate that just passed four months earlier during October’s special session.

Other legislation was introduced regarding labor, regulations and health insurance all in addition to balancing the state’s budget and addressing technical fixes to previously passed legislation. Whew! That’s a tall order for 35 days.

Due to the tight timelines, committee rules were established that allowed as little as one hour notice prior to a bill being heard in committee. That became “post and go” later in the session. In other words, the committee could post a bill for a hearing and hear it immediately thereafter. This did not allow for adequate preparation, public notice or public testimony. This is not how our representative system of government is meant to function.

Legislators joined in the frustration. “I was worried that the short session would be viewed by some legislators as a chance to adopt major policy changes, with very limited opportunity for public participation,” wrote Sen. Doug Whitsett recently, “… the short sessions would provide both the opportunity and the excuse to escalate government spending.”

At the end of session a 72-page budget was presented for consideration to House members less than 24 hours before the scheduled vote to pass it. Sen. Richard Devlin, co-chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, recently was quoted as saying “I just think 35 [days] is too short to do good policy work.”

Rep. Jeff Barker had an email suggestion for the short session, “. . . we will work budget bills but BEFORE a policy bill could be INTRODUCED it would require 3/5 of the members to agree to have the bill introduced.”

Hmmm. I think we are on the same page here.

This is not only a question of does the current short session process serve small business well? It also begs the question: Does it serve Oregonians well? I think not.

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