Of Deadlines and Decals

Both sides hunker down with unfinished business

Deadlines come and go in Oregon’s legislative cycle. The deadline for most committees to post notice of action on bills that have cleared the other chamber is May 20, and the deadline to complete action on those bills is May 31. The legal deadline for session adjournment is July 13.

But with only two months left to go, while it’s not quite the dog days of summer, Salem’s Hot Air Society has ground to a halt with all eyes on Betsy Johnson’s pelvis. Now, I don’t want you to confuse this obsession with that little men’s road trip the House Republicans took down to Palm Springs a while back; in this case there is nothing prurient about the Legislature’s interest. Sen. Johnson, a North Coast Democrat, is recuperating from surgery following by a car wreck. So you see, without her, Senate Democrats don’t have 16 votes to pass any damn thing. Senate Republicans are already holding up votes, just because they can. Last week they refused to pass a hospital tax, a key bipartisan piece of the state’s health care budget. Republicans admit they’ll release this particular hostage when they see more PERS reform. All this, by the way, leaves the House with nothing to do either, and we all know about idle hands and devils’ workshops.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kitzhaber has assembled a small group to begin hashing out the parameters for a final budget settlement that will probably include further PERS changes in exchange for additional revenue. The group includes Senate President Peter Courtney, Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli and House Minority Leader Mike McLane. Not sure how engaged House Democratic leaders Tina Kotek, Val Hoyle, Ways and Means Co-chair Peter Buckley or House Whip Vicki Berger are at this point, but they will be the critical to any deal. Meanwhile another rump group is meeting on the PERS changes, including Senator Tim Knopp, Senator Richard Devlin and others. I think Jack Roberts got it wrong; “transactional politics” is either an oxymoron or it is redundant. We’ll see as both sides hunker down.

For those watching Oregon’s attempts at gun legislation, it’s not looking very promising. There is a package of four bills still alive — pretty innocuous, watered down already — allowing primary and secondary school districts to ban guns on campus and requiring background checks for gun sales between private individuals. Last week the package was sent down to the Senate Rules Committee, diverted from a vote of the full Senate.

Depending on your perspective, the package is awaiting 16 votes to pass over to the House, or it will die a slow death in committee for lack of compromise. Or, on the other hand, the good news is that it went to Senate Rules — generally the last committee still meeting at the end of session and comprised of leaders of both parties. Maybe Courtney will pull a rabbit out of his, uhm, hat and his workgroup will come up with a passable compromise. We all hope he does. However, at some point, before the end of this session, before July 13, there must be a vote on the floor of the Senate. Even if every whip and every lobbyist in the building says the package is dead, make ’em vote! Each Oregon senator stands for re-election every four years. The public will remember how this was handled – maybe.

As your faithful Salem observer, I’m always on the lookout for feisty interchanges and truth-sayers in the process. I really like Portland Democratic Rep. Lew Frederick’s comments during a debate over Medford Republican Rep. Sal Esquivel’s bill to mandate the Pledge of Allegiance daily in schools — a typical insignificant gesture by a guy who’s never seen a school budget he liked. According to Harry Esteve’s report, Frederick called Esquivel on it: “This is all about posturing and preening,” Frederick said. “It’s all about getting videos of ourselves being patriotic.” Of course, that comment required Esquival’s caucus Whip Vicki Berger (R-Salem), to interrupt Frederick’s comments and object. Frederick, a long-time advocate and activist for Portland’s communities and schools, got in the last word though. He ended his remarks by quoting folks singer John Prine: “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore.” So here’s our Hot Air Society toast to the knucklehead of the week: Sal Esquivel. What’s he gonna come up with next? School uniforms? Cheers.