The Oregon House of Representatives adjourned sine die at 4:26 p.m. on Sunday, June 25, 2023. (Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Tears and High-Fives

Session ends, but more work to do

The 2023 legislative session is over, drawing smiles and high fives in the wood-paneled chambers.

There were tears, too, on Sunday: Lawmakers and observers said the session was one of the most chaotic, frustrating and, at times, suspenseful sessions in recent history.

“Six long months ago we came here with high hopes and great expectations,” said Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis. There have been good days, and there have been other days.”

Democratic Sen. Kathleen Taylor of Portland tearfully echoed that sentiment: “This has been a really difficult path that we’ve been through.”

Sen. Lynn Findley of Vale, who was among the Republican lawmakers who walked out and stalled the Senate for six weeks, expressed relief:  “I’m excited it’s over because we’ll stop spending money.”

Findley voted against a 40-cent monthly tax on telephone bills in House Bill 2757 to fund the 988 mental health crisis line, saying he supports the purpose but not the means.

“We have record revenue, and it’s not enough money for the state,” Findley said in an interview with the Capital Chronicle. “Oregon does not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem and this session highlighted that.”

Most Republicans voted against the bill, concurring with Findley. But it passed 19-6, with Minority Leader Sen. Tim Knopp joining Democrats on the vote.

“The question comes down to this: Are you willing to spend $5 a year to potentially save lives?” said Knopp of Bend. “All of us have been affected in some way by people who are having mental health issues.”

Over 160 days, members of the House and Senate approved about 600 measures. Some key measures were not among them, including House Bill 3414 , which would have allowed cities to extend their urban growth boundaries, or buildable zones.

“The compassionate thing to do is to create a policy that allows us to house more people at a lower cost than we currently do today,” said Knopp, who supported the measure.

Another Republican, Sen. Dick Anderson of Lincoln City, remarked: “A ‘no’ vote kicks the can down the road once again.”

But lawmakers had plenty to celebrate, and there were wins for residents, with the approval of enhanced consumer protections: House Bill 2052 will require data brokers that collect and sell consumer information to register with the state, and Senate Bill 619 will give Oregonians more control over their personal information. A third measure, House Bill 2759, addresses overseas robocallers that are difficult to stop. The bill will allow the attorney general and consumers to take action against providers  tied to illegal robocalls, including scams. It also aims to encourage telemarketers to police their own networks.

Rep. Dacia Grayber, D-Tigard, speaks with a House staffer while Reps. Mark Gamba, D-Milwaukie, Ben Bowman, D-Tigard, Kevin Mannix, R-Salem and John Lively, D-Springfield, chat on the House floor in Hawaiian shirts. (Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

The action now moves to Gov. Tina Kotek, who has been signing bills into law since March, approving about 250 so far.

Besides the big ticket items – on housing and the semiconductor industry – she’s approved plenty of other bills that will affect the lives of Oregonians in bigger and smaller ways. Senate Bill 785 will make it legal to park in a space when the meter’s not working – for free for the usual allotted time. House Bill 2058 directs the state to offer interest-free loans up to $40,000 to farmers earning less than $3 million a year to help curb the impact of the new farmworker overtime requirements. And Senate Bill 1060 widens allowable evidence in criminal cases involving physical injuries, especially in cases involving people with disabilities.

Kotek has about 350 more bills to sign – on behavioral health care, addiction treatment, suicide prevention, reading and ghost guns, to name a few. She has 30 days to sign them.

“The governor, her policy advisors and legal team will review every bill presented for her signature,” said Elisabeth Shepard, a spokeswoman.

As for lawmakers, they have a lot to unpack – and learn – from the session. House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, said he plans to continue working on big issues. And Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, said he plans to build relationships and “find opportunities for connection” after his first session as Senate leader and the longest walkout in legislative history.

“I really want to be out there in people’s communities getting to know who their constituents are,” Wagner said.

By Lynne Terry, Oregon Capital Chronicle

A sign greeted House members as they walked onto the floor on Sunday. (Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Deputy editor Julia Shumway contributed to this story.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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