Friday, February 26, 2010

The Courtney (Audio) Files

Senate President Peter Courtney didn't say much Wednesday night--on the Senate floor, or to reporters--as a plan to refer an annual legislative sessions proposal to voters unraveled. But Courtney wasn't so reticent on Thursday. Most notably, the Salem Democrat took the unusual step of coming off the dais to make a speech. Courtney exhorted his colleagues to vote in favor of the annual sessions referral. Over the course of his 11-minute monologue, Courtney talked about his Irish Catholic upbringing, the movie "Forrest Gump", and made an inexplicable reference to a certain "Star Wars" character. (UPDATE: A staffer for Senator Courtney tells me that "Yoda" is the name of the Courtney family dog.) Take a listen:

Courtney's speech was fairly "insider" in nature. But his intended audience wasn't the general public. He was trying to convince his fellow lawmakers to vote for the annual sessions referral. Maybe Courtney's rhetoric worked: The proposal passed the Senate 19-11. But it's unclear whether Courtney changed anyone's mind. House Speaker Dave Hunt told reporters the day before that he "knew" of 19 yes votes in the Senate. But at least one Democrat over in the House, Hillsboro's Chuck Riley, said on the floor that Courtney's speech had changed his mind. On Wednesday, Riley had voted against the annual sessions referral. On Thursday, he voted yes for the compromise version, which passed the House 36-23.

But Courtney wasn't done speaking after the final gavel fell. While the Senate President had waved off reporters during Wednesday evening's legislative stand-off, he invited the capitol press corps into his office on Thursday afternoon. Courtney fielded questions on the annual sessions referral and other legislation passed during the 25-day special session. Perhaps the most revealing moment came when a reporter asked Courtney if anything had taken him by surprise this month. Courtney paused, then talked about how the bruising battle over the pair of tax measures on the January ballot had spilled over into the February session, which convened less than one week following the tax election:

And finally, Courtney told reporters what he was planning to do now that the session is over. One presumes he was speaking metaphorically:

Maybe Morrisette Doesn't Want To Leave?

Retiring state senator Bill Morrisette might be having second thoughts about his decision not to run for re-election. In the closing moments yesterday of the February special session, Morrisette voted "no" on the sine die resolution, which allows the legislature to formally adjourn its session. Typically, it's the kind of legislation that brings lawmakers together; after all, who wants to stick around longer than they have to?

Of course, Morrisette's vote was most likely in jest. His fellow Senators chuckled when the Springfield Democrat said "no" in what will likely be--barring additional special sessions--his final vote as a state lawmaker. Then again, no one from either party has filed so far to run for Morrisette's seat. The district covers a swath of Lane and Linn Counties. Morrisette has a couple of weeks before the filing deadline to change his mind.

Interestingly, Morrisette wasn't the only senator to vote against sine die. Republican Jason Atkinson also cast a "no" vote, but no one was laughing when he did so. Atkinson's vote was most likely a statement of disgust, coming moments after he spoke bitterly on the Senate floor about a compromise version of the annual legislative sessions referral. Atkinson felt the compromise short-changed the work that he and other senators had put toward reaching a bi-partisan agreement on annual sessions. In the end, the deal that was reached was more of a compromise between House Democrats and Senate Democrats, and most Republicans voted against it.

For what it's worth, the sine die resolution passed 59-0 in the House.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Legislature Adjourns Sine Die

The final gavel fell at 2 o'clock this afternoon. It marked the end of a 25 day session that started February 1st.

Legislative Leaders Reach Annual Sessions Compromise

Update 1:39 p.m.  The compromise plan passed the Senate 19-9 and the House 36-23. That means Oregon voters will see an annual sessions measure on their ballot this November. The legislature appears on track to sine die in the next hour or so.

Update 12:46 p.m.:  The compromise plan has cleared a conference committee and is currently being debated on the Senate floor.

I'm getting word this morning that legislative leadership has reached a deal on the contentious annual sessions constitutional referral that had proved divisive on what was predicted to have been the final day of the February special session. Geoff Sugarman, a spokesman for House Speaker Dave Hunt, tells me that the Speaker met with Senate President Peter Courtney and other top Democrats last night and came up with a compromise plan. For comparison's sake, I'll outline the various versions below:

1. Senate plan: 135 days in odd-numbered years, 45 days in even-numbered years, for a total of 180 days.
2. House plan:  165 days in odd-numbered years, 45 days in even-numbered years, for a total of 210 days.
3. Compromise plan: 160 days in odd-numbered years, 35 days in even-numbered years, for a total of 195 days.

As you can see, they agreed to split the difference in terms of total days in session. The deal seems aimed at pleasing House Democrats, many of whom wondered about the legislature's ability to get things done in 135 days--or about 4 1/2 months--in odd-numbered years. Under the annual sessions framework, the "main" session would still be the time when lawmakers do the heavy legislative lifting such as crafting two-year budgets. The shorter, even-numbered year sessions would be for tweaking the budget and patching up other odds and ends. That was the basic idea behind the trial run of special sessions in 2008 and this month, although that didn't stop some lawmakers from introducing brand new policy proposals.

Whether this new annual sessions compromise has enough votes to pass on the House and Senate floors remains to be seen, though with each chamber scheduled to convene in the next hour, we should know soon. In the end, voters would get the final say as formalizing an annual sessions plan would require a change in the Oregon Constitution.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No Sine Die Today

In a surprise move, Senate President Peter Courtney gaveled today's session to a close just before 7 o'clock this evening. That means lawmakers will meet again tomorrow. The move appeared to catch House Speaker Dave Hunt off-guard, as he had repeatedly told House members that sine die was imminent.

Courtney isnt talking to reporters this evening, but Senate Assistant Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum simply said "there are a few outstanding issues still to be resolved." When pressed, she conceded there was really just one issue: the ongoing turmoil over the annual legislative sessions referral. It's unclear what Senate Democrats hope to accomplish by coming back tomorrow. But you never know what conversations will take place between legislative leaders tonight and tomorrow morning. Stay tuned...

Update:  Geoff Sugarman, a spokesman for Dave Hunt, confirms that the House Speaker was surprised by Courtney's move to adjourn for the evening. But Sugarman said Hunt hopes that "calmer heads would prevail" tomorrow morning. Sugarman noted that a Thursday sine die would still mean that lawmakers would finish their February special session a couple of days ahead of schedule.

Legislature Honors Departing Members

With the special session appearing to wrap up in the coming hours, lawmakers are honoring their soon-to-be-departing colleagues. Of course, the five Representatives and two Senators will still hold their seats until next January, meaning they'll continue to represent their districts and could even come back to the capitol in the event of another (unplanned) special session. But in many ways, today will mark their final day in their current legislative career (although two of the departing House members hope their careers continue over in the Senate).

The departing members are:

Sen. Rick Metsger (D), from the Mount Hood area, is retiring.

Sen. Bill Morrisette (D), from Springfield, is retiring.

Rep. Brent Barton (D), from Clackamas, is running for the Senate seat now held by the departing Rick Metsger.

Rep. George Gilman (R), from Medford, is retiring.

Rep. Scott Bruun (R), from West Linn, is running for the 5th District Congressional seat.

Rep. Ron Maurer (R), from Grants Pass, is running for Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Rep. Chuck Riley (D), from Hillsboro, is running for the Senate seat now held by Bruce Starr (a Republican who is seeking re-election).

Of course, there's no guarantee that any of the rest of the members will still be here in 2011. All of the remaining House members are facing re-election, as are many of the Senate members.

Annual Sessions Deal Falls Apart

The ad hoc panel created to hash out differences between the House and the Senate over the annual sessions referral has failed to reach an agreement. As the meeting opened, Senate Majorithy leader Richard Devlin moved to restore the 135-day schedule for odd-numbered years.  A House panel had upped that number to 165.  Devlin said “I believe 135 sends a very clear message to the public” that lawmakers intend to work efficiently.  But Representative Arnie Roblan, who chairs the House panel that added the extra month, countered that the bill would not pass in the House with the shorter time-frame.

While four of the six members of the conference committee supported the move back to 135 days, the two House Democrats present--Roblan and Representative Chris Garrett--voted no. Under legislative rules, that means the motion fails, since any conference committee motion must earn majority support by representatives from each chamber.

Devlin then tried again by suggesting a 150-day time-frame, but that failed too. After the vote, Devlin said "It appears we are in genuine disagreement." The Senate still has the option of passing the House version of the measure, SJR-41. But with possibly just a few hours remaining during the special session, the chances of that are increasingly unlikely.

Senate, House Disagree On Annual Sessions

The House and the Senate have a disagreement on their hands about whether to send voters a constitutional amendment about annual legislative sessions. The Senate passed the resolution 24-6 last week but a House committee tacked on an additional month to the potential length of odd-numbered year sessions. This morning the full House narrowly approved the new version of the referral, which would establish--upon voter approval--a roughly five-and-a-half-month session in odd-numbered years and a roughly 6-week session in even-numbered years.

But minutes ago, the Senate--on a voice vote and with no discussion--refused to concur with the changes made in the House. It doesn't mean the proposal is dead. Lawmakers can appoint a "conference committee" to iron out differences. Whether that will happen before the end of this session remains to be seen, as many in the building expect today to be the final day.

Oregon's constitution currently allows for sessions only in odd-numbered years except when lawmakers or the governor call an emergency session. That's the provision under which lawmakers are meeting this month, as this typically would be an "off-year" for the legislature.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Countdown To Sine Die

House Speaker Dave Hunt just a few moments ago told members of the House:

“I think we’re on track … to be done tomorrow, probably late tomorrow afternoon but hopefully not into the evening tomorrow. Much of that depends on how much you all want to talk this afternoon.”

Legislative "Odd Couple" Teams Up Again

Last year I brought you the story of a pair of representatives dubbed by their colleagues as the "Odd Couple". One--Jefferson Smith--is an outspoken Democrat from Portland. The other--Bob Jenson--is a reserved Republican from Pendleton. Though the two would seem to have little in common, they worked together to find common ground on the perennially thorny issue of water use in rural eastern Oregon.

This year, the two have paired up again to push a concept known as "economic gardening." The idea is to give small and mid-size businesses access to economic development tools such as market research data that would otherwise be out of reach to them due to the cost of obtaining such data. The measure does not appropriate any money to this effort, but creates a task force to study the concept, which originated in Littleton, Colorado. The measure passed the House 57-2 yesterday but it's unclear whether it will make it to the Senate floor for a vote before the session wraps up later this week.

UPDATE:  2/24/10  The Senate passed the "economic gardening" bill 24-6 last evening.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Annual Sessions Plan Grows By 30 Days

The House Rules Committee late this afternoon voted to send the annual sessions proposal to the House floor, but not before amending it to add an additional 30 days to the length of odd-numbered year sessions. The Joint Resolution passed on a party-line vote. The amendment means that if the House approves it, SJR-41 would head back to the Senate for concurrence. If both chambers approve it, Oregon voters would weigh in on the proposal at the ballot this November.

So why did the Rules Committee add an entire month to the schedule? Committee chair Arnie Roblan says lawmakers felt it was unrealistic to complete the task of writing budgets in the 135 day time period originally proposed. The extra month would give them more time to contemplate the revenue forecast that's typically issued in mid-May before voting on the final spending plans. House Majority Leader Mary Nolan told the panel that even with the additional time, the overall time spent in session (165 days in odd-numbered years and 45 days in even-numbered years) would still be less than the average single-year session over the past two decades. 

Oregon is one of just five states where the legislature typically meets every other year. The current month-long special session is the second time lawmakers have tried meeting in an even-numbered year. The first was in 2008.

BPA "Sippy Cup" Ban Dies Again

The second attempt this month at passing a ban on the chemical BPA in childrens' food and beverage containers has fallen flat in Salem. A bill made it to the Senate floor last week only to fail by one vote. Supporters immediately looked to the House, where a similar bill was in the wings. The measure was sent to the House Rules Committee, which had until today to pass bills out to the floor. While the bill was the today's agenda, Committee Chair Arnie Roblan gaveled this afternoon's meeting to a close without bringing the BPA bill to a vote. I asked Roblan about it afterward and he said there simply wasn't enough support on the panel to advance the bill. He said members wondered if there was any point in bringing the bill to the House floor, considering the Senate's lack of enthusiasm for the concept.

Salem-watchers know that no bill or concept is truly dead until the final gavel falls (and at that point, any dead bill is only on hiatus until the next session rolls around). But for now, it appears as though the votes aren't there.

Friday, February 19, 2010

House Republicans Offer Alternate Annual Sessions Plan

House Republicans say they're on board with the basic concept of annual legislative sessions. But they're offering up an alternate proposal to SJR 41, which was approved by the Senate and is currently in the House Rules Committee. Deputy House Republican Leader Kevin Cameron of Salem outlined the plan today in a newsletter to his constituents:

"The alternative retains the provisions of the majority plan, but adds additional restrictions on legislative activity during even-year sessions. Under the plan, the Legislature could only address memorials or resolutions, budget-balancing measures and tax and revenue measures. 

In addition, any measure that reaches the House or Senate Floors during even-year sessions would require a bipartisan, two-thirds vote in both bodies."

The last part in particular isn't likely to find much favor among Democrats, who hold a significant majority in both legislative chambers. Regardless of which plan--if any--that lawmakers approve, Oregon voters would get the final say, since moving to permanent annual sessions would require a change in the state's constitution. Oregon is one of just five states where lawmakers do not typically meet every year.

Senate Plans Rare Saturday Session

Ever wanted to observe the Oregon Legislature in action, but can't make it down to the capitol on weekdays? Tomorrow you'll have the chance to see your lawmakers at work as the Senate plans a rare Saturday floor session. With roughly a week remaining in the February special session, the bills are piling up on the Senate calendar. The chamber made it through just a handful during a one-hour floor session today, but Senate President Peter Courtney promises a long march through a backlog of about 20 bills during tomorrow's session, which starts at 9:30. The House is taking the weekend off, and won't return until Monday morning.

Update: If you want a sneak peak at tomorrow's Senate agenda, click here. Most of the bills on the calendar are unlikely to generate vigorous debate. Virtually all of them were approved in the House with little to no opposition. The Saturday session keeps the Legislature on pace to finish on schedule and maybe even a day or two early. Meanwhile, there's talk in Olympia that Washington lawmakers won't get done with their session in time. My colleague Austin Jenkins has the details over at the Washington Ledge.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Audio From The Klamath Ceremony

Here's the audio from today's Klamath signing ceremony.  If you listen carefully at the 1 hour, 5 minute mark you can hear me ask Governor Schwarzenegger if California voters will approve an $11 billion bond measure later this year. Funding for the dam removal is a relatively tiny $250 million sliver of the bond measure, and it's likely most California voters won't base their votes on the potential fate of the Klamath dams. Schwarzenegger's response? "Things look very good (but) it is very challenging."

Full ceremony audio:

I've also created a separate audio link that just contains Governor Schwarzenegger's speech. In it, Schwarzenegger reminisces about the time he came to Oregon to film "Kindergarten Cop", and reveals the name of the small Oregon town where he bought his dog. You can also hear how he pronounces the name of Oregon's capital city (hint: rhymes with Gollum).

Audio of Schwarzenegger speech:

Photos From The Klamath Signing Ceremony

A mound of pens sits on a table prior to the signing ceremony. 

Onlookers packed the capitol rotunda for a chance to see Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

A gaggle of reporters turned out to cover the ceremony in the capitol rotunda. 

Klamath tribal groups opened the signing ceremony with a prayer and a song.

L-R: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski 

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signs the Klamath agreement as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger look on. 

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger poses for the cameras while signing the Klamath agreement. 

The John Boyle Dam in Klamath County, Oregon, is one of four dams slated for removal under an agreement that was signed today. This photo was taken last month.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Scenic Route From Seattle To Salem

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar arrived in Salem this afternoon ahead of tomorrow's signing ceremony for the Klamath dam removal agreement. Earlier today he was in Seattle for a joint appearance with Washington Governor Chris Gregoire. I was trying to arrange an interview with Salazar for a short piece I'm doing to preview the signing ceremony. Salazar's press liaison called me at 2:30 to say that the Interior Secretary was just getting on a plane and that I'd have to wait until he arrived in Salem to talk with him. "No problem," I thought. Seattle to Salem must surely be a quick flight.  But 4 o'clock, then 4:30 rolled around and still no call.

I logged onto the flight tracking website and found a flight that left Seattle's Boeing Field at 2:30, headed for Salem. But lo and behold, instead of taking the obvious route the plane made a loop around what appears to be Mt. St. Helens, then headed south until somewhere around Klamath Falls, where the pilot made a u-turn and high-tailed it into Salem, arriving at 5:08. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later Salazar called. I asked him if he had flown over the Klamath basin on his way to Salem and he confirmed that he had. So while I have no proof that this circuitous flight plan was indeed Salazar's flight, it sure appears to be the case.

Annual Sessions Moves Closer To Ballot

Oregon voters could have the chance to decide if lawmakers should meet in annual sessions. The Senate voted 24-6 today to send a measure to the ballot that would authorize lawmakers to meet every year, instead of every other year. If the House joins the Senate in approving Senate Joint Resolution 41, the question would be posed to voters this November. (The resolution does not need the governor's signature.)

Oregon is one of five states with less-than-annual legislative sessions--the current "special session" notwithstanding. Supporters of moving to annual sessions said the change would allow lawmakers to tackle issues in a more timely manner, especially budget matters. Under the plan, the overall time the legislature spends in session would not significantly change--it would simply be spread out over two years. Some Republican lawmakers warned during today's floor debate that it would open the door to abuse of power by majority Democrats. "My district doesn't sleep while we're in session," said GOP Senator Fred Girod. But Girod's fellow Republican, Frank Morse, disagreed, saying "Do not let the frailties of the moment cloud our judgement to create wise policy for the future of this state."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Short Anecdote About Word Choice

From the most recent newsletter issued by Roseburg Republican Senator Jeff Kruse:

"I will not mention any names because this is strictly antidotal and would probably be denied..."

One assumes Kruse meant to say that the piece of gossip he was passing along to his constituents was strictly anecdotal, which has an entirely different meaning than antidotal.   Based on the story Kruse tells, I'm guessing he wouldn't mind an antidote to the power held by majority Democrats in Salem.

BPA "Sippy Cup" Ban Could Resurface

Supporters of a proposed ban on the chemical BPA in certain products designed for young children aren't giving up even after the Oregon Senate today rejected the proposal on a 15-15 vote. The House Rules Committee has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow on a bill that looks very familiar. I haven't read them line by line, but at first blush it appears that House Bill 3703 has a lot in common with the Senate measure that failed, Senate Bill 1032.

Even though the deadline has passed for most committees to consider bills in their first chamber, there's an exception for the Revenue, Ways & Means, and Rules committees. That's the loophole that allows this bill to be considered. And that's why the House bill is being heard in the Rules committee, whereas the Senate bill went through the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Obviously the Rules committee has a broad purview, because you can call pretty much any law a "rule."

The bigger question is:  If the bill is rushed through the House and makes it back to the Senate floor, why would anyone expect the vote total to change? I'd imagine that supporters of the BPA ban will be spending a lot of time trying to convince Democratic Senators Betsy Johnson, Martha Schrader, and Joanne Verger to change their minds. The three joined all of the Senate Republicans in voting against the ban.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Speaker Hunt Declares: "Sine Die Is Imminent"

The intrigue over when the Legislature will adjourn "sine die" is definitely muted in Salem this month. As a regular session draws to an end, predicting the exact moment when the final gavel will fall becomes a matter of rampant speculation. But as anyone around the capitol during the 2008 Special Session can attest, the guessing games just aren't as fun during a month-long session as opposed to a half-year session. Of course, in 2008 legislative leaders caught some people off-guard when they adjourned a full week earlier than originally planned.

So what kind of signal was House Speaker Dave Hunt sending this morning with this casual remark?

Hunt's declaration doesn't signal that sine die is just around the corner. Uttering those words is actually a formality that allows him to speed up the legislative process--specifically, it allows committees to post agendas with a 24-hour notice, instead of the previous 48 hours. Senate President Peter Courtney is in an even greater hurry: Today he put the Senate under "one-hour notice" rules. That should keep the lobbyists on their toes.

Senate Passes Earned Time Reduction

The Oregon Senate has approved a time-out for a cost-cutting plan that saw some criminals get out of prison earlier. Senate Bill 1007 temporarily suspends last year's House Bill 3508, which in turn was a reaction to the increased costs arising from the passage of Measure 57 in 2008, which itself was referred to the ballot by lawmakers to compete with Measure 61, which also appeared on the 2008 ballot thanks to the initiative petition process.

Still with me?

The current bill puts a halt to the added "earned time" credit which allows certain criminals to apply to have their sentence reduced by 30 percent, instead of 20 percent. The suspension would last for about a year and a half, at which point it reverts to 30 percent for two years, then drops back to 20 percent. The bill also adds several crimes to the list of offenses not eligible for additional earned time. Supporters characterize the bill as a "fix" to allow the state to assess the impact of the earned time program and to prevent some violent offenders from applying for early release. They say the money saved through the early release program is being applied to public safety programs including state police patrols and prison operations. Senate Republicans moved on the floor to entirely repeal the extra early release program, but the motion failed. In the end, Senate Bill 1007 passed 20-10. It's now headed over to the House.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kicker Off The Table

Legislative leaders never really warmed up Governor Ted Kulongoski's proposal to ask voters this year to modify the state's kicker, sending a portion of it into a rainy day fund. So it wasn't a huge surprise this afternoon when we learned that Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Dave Hunt had informed the governor that they were officially taking no action during the February special session. While the Hunt and Courtney have in the past expressed support for some form of the idea, the two said in a joint statement that they wanted to "keep (our) focus on creating jobs and the economy." Courtney especially had more or less said something to this effect point blank to reporters last week, saying he didn't feel "in his tummy" that the time was right to put the kicker on the ballot. (It's in the state's Constitution, so any changes would have to be approved by voters). It's widely thought in Salem that the bruising battle over Measures 66 and 67 have soured lawmakers on taking up another tax-related issue in 2010, an election year.

Monday, February 8, 2010

House Vetoes One Bill, Skips Second Bill

The Oregon House today voted to override the Governor's veto of SB 897 from the 2009 legislative session. It's a bill that requires the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) to verify and guarantee its members' retirement payout information up to two years in advance of their retirement. Together with the Senate's vote last week, it means Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski's wishes have once again been overruled by the Democratically-controlled Legislature. (Lawmakers overrode two of the Governor's vetoes during the final days of the regular session last year.) While the Senate was nearly unanimous in its override vote, 15 House Republicans sided with the Governor. All 15 had voted in favor of the bill when it first passed the House on the final day of the regular session last June.

But while Senate members had also voted to override Kulongoski's veto of SB 545, lawmakers in the House failed to take action at the point in today's floor session where veto votes would occur. The bill would require the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to study the impact of pathogens on fish hatchery operations, and investigate the feasability of purchasing a trout farm in eastern Oregon. I asked House Speaker Dave Hunt about the non-veto afterward, and he said that while anyone on the floor could have made such a one did. I wondered aloud why the PERS bill got a vote, while the fish hatchery bill did not. After all, both measures passed the House without opposition the first time around. Hunt said lawmakers may have felt hesitant to act on the hatchery bill on a day when Oregon's revenues suffered another blow, since the bill had a fiscal impact associated with it, albeit a minimal one.

Interestingly, it may have been a moot point since the hatchery bill directs ODFW to submit a report on fish pathogens "on or before February 1, 2010." Obviously, that's no longer possible. So if the House had voted to override the veto, the ODFW would have immediately been out of compliance with the bill.

Revenue Forecast: First Glance

Today is February 8.  So you might wonder why the revenue forecast issued today was dubbed the "March" forecast. State economist Tom Potiowsky told lawmakers at a meeting of the House Revenue Committee this morning that it's kind of like the magazine industry where the April issue shows up in your mailbox sometime in early March. No matter the date, Potiowsky didn't have terribly good news for the Legislature: He predicted another $183 million dollar drop since the December forecast, which was issued in--you guessed it--November. You can read the full details of the most recent forecast here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Gilliam's Prius Premise

When Representative Vic Gilliam rises to speak on the House floor, you never know what he's going to say. Today, the Silverton Republican admitted to colleagues that he was hoping the newly announced brake problems on the 2010 Toyota Prius would give House Republicans a political boost:

Gilliam was mistaken when he said the car was recalled. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is launching an investigation, an actual Prius recall has not been announced. Nevertheless, I wondered if Gilliam's implication that Democrats were more likely to drive a Prius than Republicans was true. I headed down to the Legislative parking garage to check it out. Lawmakers park in assigned spaces, which would have made Gilliam's hypothesis easy to test. Alas, whereas until recently anyone could stroll into the garage, entrance to the facility now requires a security badge. My capitol ID badge didn't grant me access.

So I contacted Michael Cox, who handles press inquiries for the House Majority Office. Cox told me he knew of at least two House Democrats who drive a Prius. But at least one House Republican, John Huffman, also drives a Prius. So if the Prius drivers had stayed home, the GOP would have "gained" a seat. But considering that on a normal day, Democrats outnumber Republicans 36-to-24 in the House, it would take more than a Prius recall to turn the political tables.

House Approves First Bills Of 2010 Session

The first two bills approved by the Oregon House in the 2010 special session could provide ammunition for people on both sides of the debate over whether lawmakers should even be meeting this month. House Bill 3625 "designates May of each year as Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month." While no one disputes the importance of promoting awareness of the mental health needs of pregnant and post-partum women, you have to wonder why this bill couldn't have waited until a regular session of the Legislature. Nevertheless, the bill passed 58-0.

Interestingly, a nearly identical measure was introduced last year. But that one specifically designated March 2009 for the awareness month, whereas this measure gives the designation to May of each year. Last year's measure was never acted on in the Senate.

The other bill approved by the House today was one that extends unemployment benefits to about 19,000 Oregonians at risk of losing their checks. This measure, HB 3655 has been specifically cited by legislative leaders as justification for holding a special session. The bill also passed 58-0.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Don't Expect Flood Of Ballot Measures This Fall

Oregon voters shouldn't expect a repeat of the 2008, when 12 ballot measures competed for their attention. One early indicator suggests relatively few signature-gatherers will submit the required 82,769 valid signatures for a statutory measure or 110,358 valid signatures for a constitutional change. A new law requires initiative petitioners to submit signatures acquired by paid gatherers on a monthly basis. The first batch of signatures was due last month, and since it was the first deadline, the petitioners would have had to submit all signatures gathered to that point by paid gatherers. 

According to Secretary of State spokesman Don Hamilton, just two petition groups submitted any signatures. That would be the people behind Initiative Petition 13. Known as the "Oregon Crimefighting Act," it would require increased minimum sentences for certain repeat sex offenders, and mandatory jail time for repeat drunk drivers. The other petition group that submitted signatures is the one backing Initiative Petition 28. That group held a press conference last month to tout its turn-in of some 61,000 signatures for the petition, which would allow state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries.

So if just two groups have submitted signatures, does that mean voters will have just two measures on this November's ballot? No. First of all, there's no guarantee those two measures will even make it to the ballot. But assuming they do, they'll be joined by at least one Legislative referral, sent to the ballot by the 2009 Legislature. And lawmakers could refer any number of measures to the November ballot while they're in Salem this month. (Of the 12 measures on the 2008 ballot, four were legislative referrals.)

Also, it's important to remember that the new monthly signature turn-in requirement only applies to signatures collected by paid signature-gatherers. And while the people behind 11 of the 12 petitions that have so far been approved to circulate have indicated they will use paid signature-gatherers, that doesn't mean they have to. They could be relying on volunteer gatherers, and will only step up their efforts to include paid gatherers as the July 2 deadline approaches. Additionally, many groups are now using an online petition sheet which allows people to print it out, sign it, and mail it in. Technically this counts as a non-paid signature gathering effort.

So the groups that did not submit any signatures may be gathering names through other means. Or, they simply missed the deadline. Hamilton of the Secretary of State's office says that means that any signatures they collected with paid gatherers during 2009 won't count. But it's also worth noting that at least four initiative petitions were only approved to circulate last month, meaning they won't have to submit any signatures until the next deadline, which is February 12. The bottom line is that it's hard to guess how many ballot measures will be up for a vote in November. But a repeat of 2008, at this point, seems unlikely.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

For Sale: Anti Tax Web Address

The website for the group behind the failed effort to overturn a pair of tax increases is no more. For months, was ground zero for anti-tax-hikers. Now, the URL leads to a "this space for hire" message from a Manhattan-based high-tech firm. Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes still has $1300 in the bank according to their online campaign finance report, but apparently no one felt compelled to keep shelling out the website registration fee. For now, the group's rhetoric lives on over at YouTube.

If you're wondering about the website for the Vote Yes group, as of today it's still up and running.

Jerry Wilson's Plan To Pare The Prison Population

It's hard to know how seriously to take Jerry Wilson's campaign for governor. The founder of the Soloflex exercise equipment company is running for the nomination of the 133-member Oregon Progressive Party. His campaign platform is unconventional, to say the least. Now, Wilson says he has a solution for reducing the state's prison population: He wouldn't put convicts behind bars. Instead, he'd "neuter criminals in lieu of prison."

Wilson certainly knows a thing or two about publicity, making millions from hawking exercise equipment through infomercials. So far he's sticking with his goal of running a campaign on the cheap, relying on word-of-mouth (or word-of-internet, as it were) publicity instead of spending his own money. State campaign finance records show that Wilson has spent some of his own money. Specifically, he's spent about $2600, all of it going to an out-of-state website developer.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Senate Men Discuss Childbirth

The first day of a Legislative session is a time for lawmakers to catch up on the goings-on in their personal lives since they last met. In the case of Sherwood Republican Senator Larry George, his personal news was recent: his wife gave birth to a healthy baby girl last week. This led to a bizarre exchange between George and Senate President Peter Courtney on the floor this morning, in which the two discussed the role of men in the childbearing process and what constitutes a reasonable size for a newborn child. At one point, Courtney--sensing perhaps that George may have talked himself into a corner--says "Do you want to go on with this?"  George did not. Take a listen:

Gavel Falls; Sparks Fly

It didn't take long for the political sparks to fly after the Legislature convened this morning for its month-long special session. Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli pointedly asked Senate President Peter Courtney why the Senate wasn't going to vote on whether to override a series of vetoes issued by Governor Ted Kulongoski following last summer's adjournment of the 2009 legislative session. Courtney's response? The paperwork wasn't ready. Why wasn't the paperwork ready, wondered Ferrioli? After all, the vetoes were issued last August. Listen to the exchange, including Courtney's explanation:

Don Hamilton of the Secretary of State's office confirms Courtney's explanation, saying that basically the deadline to complete the paperwork had sneaked up on staff members. It's worth noting, however, that last year when the governor vetoed the budget for K-12 education, citing an over-reliance on state reserve funds, the paperwork was ready in less than 24 hours and Senators over-rode that veto the very next day. But it's also worth noting that the current Secretary of State is Kate Brown. Ferrioli frequently clashed with Brown in her previous role as Senate Majority Leader. It looks like he isn't letting up on Brown now, either.

One final note:  I asked Courtney at a press conference later in the day what the Senate was actually planning to do with those vetoes once the paperwork arrived. Courtney said he expects lawmakers to act on a bill relating to the Public Employee Retirement System, and another one that requires the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct a study of fish hatcheries. Both of those bills originally passed the Senate with well more than the number of votes needed to override a veto. The Governor vetoed other bills relating to the Business Energy Tax Credit and the Renewable Portfolio Standard. Those were House bills, and as such any move to override those vetoes would have to originate in the House. However, lawmakers may choose to take on those issues with brand new bills.

Democrats Outline Agenda: Raw Audio

This afternoon, legislative leaders (read: Democrats) laid out their agenda for the 2010 special session at a state capitol press conference. You can get a summary of their message here. Or, listen at the link below. The four speakers, in order, are Senate President Peter Courtney, House Speaker Dave Hunt, House Majority Leader Mary Nolan, and Senate Majority Leader Richard Devlin. After making brief opening statements, the four took questions from reporters. Much of the Q & A period revolved around Governor Ted Kulongoski's proposal to divert some of the kicker into a rainy day fund. The four leading Democrats aren't big on the idea, or more specifically, aren't big on the idea of doing it now. Senator Courtney said he only wants to tackle the kicker if he thinks voters will approve it. He isn't sure that would happen this year. If you fast forward to the 27th minute of this press conference, you'll find out which part of his body is telling him this...

Behold, The Power Of The Rebate

Do you have one of those credit cards that offers rebates when you pay your balance quickly? Imagine the size of your rebate if you had the spending power of the state government. State auditors wondered the same thing, and they released an audit today that looked at the potential savings if agencies fully took advantage of rebate programs. In short, the audit finds that roughly $750,000 has been left on the table over the past six years.

The audit also found that the main barrier to earning rebates is that agencies don't always pay their credit cards bills quickly enough to qualify for rebates. (Credit cards are generally used for smaller purchases:  think office supplies.) Auditors pointed out that agencies could earn rebates, in some cases, by adjusting their payment cycles by just a few days. Additionally, auditors found that workers at some agencies had already figured out the rebate system--the Oregon Youth Authority and ODOT, among others--and thus have already been earning rebates for their agencies.  Read the full audit here.