Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Legislature Back At Full Strength, Almost

The Oregon Senate welcomed Chip Shields to its ranks today.  Shields, a Democrat, was sworn in this afternoon to take the place of Margaret Carter, who retired last month to accept a job at the Oregon Department of Human Services.  Shields, whose real first name is William, was in the middle of his third term in the Oregon House when he was tapped to fill Carter's north Portland seat.

The House, meanwhile, received two new members into its fold this week.  Val Hoyle of Eugene and Margaret Doherty of Tigard both took the oath of office last evening.  Hoyle replaces Chris Edwards, who was appointed to the Senate last month to replace the retiring Vicki Walker.  Doherty was selected to fill the seat formerly held by Larry Galizio, who resigned in August to take a job with the Oregon University System.  Like the lawmakers they replaced, Hoyle and Doherty are both Democrats.

The three oath-swearing ceremonies leave the Legislature with just one vacancy:  HD-43, which was held by Shields until earlier today.  A replacement for Shields will be selected by the Multnomah County Commission.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Capitol Bustling This Week

It's almost a miniature Legislative session this week.  Today is the first of three days chock full of interim committee meetings.  Typically these meetings are spread out over the course of the "off-season", but legislative leaders decided to schedule them en masse in order to cut down on travel costs for lawmakers, who can now attend several meetings on the same trip to Salem.

The committees will largely be hearing reports and updates on previously passed legislation.  Lawmakers will also kick around some ideas to tackle during next February's planned special session.  Unlike that session, the Legislature won't be passing any bills this week.

Topics up for discussion are all over the map, but the subject du jour seems to be swine flu, officially known as the H1N1 virus.  Lawmakers will hear at least three different presentations this week.  And as if to reinforce the point, visitors to the capitol this week are being greeted with an arsenal of hand-sanitizing stations.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Where Does Oregon Rank In Vehicle Fees?

Journalists love comparing the state/county/city they cover to other places.  So when I was putting together today's story on new vehicle registration fees taking effect this Thursday, I decided to see how Oregon compares to the other 49 states.  It turns out, that's a hard stat to nail down.

The most authoritative, up-to-date list I could find was this one from the National Conference of State Legislatures. But I quickly discovered that many states don't have a flat fee for vehicle registration.  That includes our neighbor to the north, which bases the fee on the weight of the vehicle.  That makes it a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison to Oregon, which has a flat fee for all cars. This listing from the U-S Department of Transportation gives a "typical" fee in each state, though the information is only current through January 1, 2008.  As best I could, I combined the two sets of data and came up with a highly unofficial ranking for Oregon, in terms of vehicle registration fees:  13th highest in the nation, just behind Washington state.  Under the old fees, Oregon was 32nd highest.  That said, I'd be interested in hearing if anyone looks at the numbers and comes up with a different ranking for Oregon.

House Swing District Up For Grabs

The Oregon Republican Party must surely be taking note of the news today that State Representative Brent Barton won't seek re-election to his House seat.  Barton has his eyes on a bigger prize:  The seat of retiring State Senator Rick Metsger.  Metsger announced last week he'll resign at the end of his term after more than a decade in the Legislature.

Barton's decision leaves HD-51, which includes the southeast Portland suburbs and a large swath of Clackamas County, without an incumbent in next year's election.  Last year Barton unseated incumbent Republican Linda Flores, a victory which helped Democrats in the House secure a "supermajority".  Democrats hold a razor-thin voter registration edge in HD-51.  No Republican has filed yet to run in the district, but you can expect the GOP to recruit a candidate in short order.

DMV Dust-Up In Corvallis

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then the people of Corvallis must be falling deeply in love with the Oregon DMV these days. The Gazette-Times has this tale of how one of the state's largest cities has come to be without a DMV office.  The rest of the state will get a taste of what Corvallis is going through next month, when DMV offices state-wide will close October 16 for the first of ten scheduled furlough days during the current budget cycle.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Life Doesn't Always Go As Planned

State Senator Vicki Walker of Eugene resigned her seat in July to take on a new role:  head of the Oregon Parole Board.  The new job would take her out of the limelight she often enjoyed as an outspoken elected official, but it did come with a hefty pay increase.  Now, it appears she won't get that new job after all.  David Steves of the Register-Guard broke the story.

Walker's future is unclear.  She lost in the Democratic primary for Secretary of State last year.  Could another run for statewide office be in the offing?  One thing's certain:  She won't get her old job back.  Former Representative Chris Edwards was elevated to Walker's Senate seat earlier this month.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Representative Shields Gets a Promotion

The Multnomah County Commission voted today to elevate Democratic Representative Chip Shields to a seat in the Senate.  The Commission had the task of selecting a replacement for Senator Margaret Carter, who resigned in August to take a job with the Department of Human Services.

Shields is in his third term as State Representative.  He'll have to defend his new seat in next year's election.  Now, Multomah County officials have to find someone to replace Shields in his north Portland House District.

Senator Metsger Announces He's Not Running Again

A veteran Oregon lawmaker says he won't seek re-election next year.  Senator Rick Metsger, a Democrat, will retire at the end of his third term in office.  Metsger represents a diverse district that includes the far eastern Portland suburbs, parts of the Columbia Gorge including Hood River, and the area around Mount Hood.

Metsger was first elected to the Senate in 1998.  Last year he came in second the Democratic primary for Secretary of State, losing to current office-holder Kate Brown in a four-way race.  In a statement, Metsger didn't reveal any future plans but said "It is time to take on new challenges."

Democrats hold a 40% to 35% voter registration edge in Metsger's Senate District 26. But more than 21% of registered voters in the district are unaffiliated, which means defending this seat is no slam dunk for Democrats.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Panel Considers Fiscal Impact of Referenda Prior to Signature Deadline

Organizers of a campaign to get a pair of tax measures on the Oregon ballot have until Friday to submit at least 55,000 valid signatures to the Oregon Secretary of State's office.  Backers of the effort assure me they'll have well beyond that amount.  One signature gatherer outside the capitol building last week said that any names being collected at this point amount to an "insurance policy."

Public optimism is no guarantee that they've actually reached their goal, however.  But the group collecting signatures, Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, has raised more than $1 million towards their efforts.  You can put a lot of people with clipboards on the streets with that kind of money. 

And state officials are already preparing for the tax measures to make it to the ballot.  A panel charged with determining the fiscal impact of overturning the tax hikes met for the first time last week, well before the tax opponents turned in a single signature.  That panel is set to meet again on October 13.  The committee will also hold a public hearing on October 15.

Majority Democrats in the Legislature say overturning the taxes will lead to cuts in state programs such as education, public safety, and human services.  Opponents of the taxes say the measures will drive businesses out of the state and will result in fewer jobs.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

About Capitol Currents

Capitol Currents is a collection of news and analysis from Chris Lehman, public radio's correspondent at the Oregon capitol.  Lehman has covered Oregon government since 2006.  The Oregon statehouse bureau is a project of the Northwest News Network, which is a collaboration of 12 public radio stations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.  If you have any questions, comments, or news tips, please send Chris an e-mail at  II am inserting this text to create a breakLet's see if i.Ju   st a fee spaces
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