A case for annual sessions

By Gary Wilhelms,

During 2005-2006, thirty-two Oregonians worked for fifteen months as members of the Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature to review the operations and structure of our Legislature. The Commission’s final report was entitled “A Blueprint for a 21st Century Legislature.” To list the changes that have occurred in our state over the past century would be a waste of space in this short message. You can make your own list. Our Legislature has changed, too. We’ve built bigger buildings, hired more staff, bought lots of technology, established more committees, and stayed in session longer. What we have not done is make any significant changes in the Legislature’s structure and basic operation.

In their report, the Commission proposed a lengthy list of recommendations aimed at improving the Legislature’s efficiency. There was broad, not unanimous, agreement among Commission members that the Legislature should move to annual legislative sessions. (Of the fifty state legislatures, forty-four currently meet annually.) The Commission’s recommendation, however, was to first experiment with annual sessions, determining their desirability, and then, if appropriate, to move forward seeking Oregonians’ approval of the necessary Constitutional Amendment. That is what the Legislature has done. The Constitutional Amendment will be on this November’s General Election ballot. Oregon voters will ultimately get to decide. Frankly, the arguments against annual sessions are old hat. Why is allowing the Legislature to meet more often a good idea? As we move into the 21st century, we need to give the Legislature a fair shot at improving their operational efficiency. The fact is that until the Legislature began its annual session experiment in 2007, the previous five regular sessions (1997-2005) averaged 197 days. If special session days were added, the average would be even longer. The Constitutional Amendment contains a 160 day limit for the odd-year session and a 35 day limit for the even-year session for a total of 195 days. That’s less time in session, and that’s a limit, not a requirement. They could very well finish their work earlier. The Legislature would not be meeting more than they already are and would likely be meeting less.

The Commission’s annual session recommendation was just one piece of a much broader set of related recommendations dealing with legislative structure, operations and timing. Together, these recommendations would improve the Legislature’s flexibility, responsiveness and efficiency, all of which are necessary for a “21st Century Legislature.”

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 17 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jim Ray

    Ya know what ya can do with this commission? Right!!!
    HELL NO to annual sessions and all of the BS they’d create. God Almighty Gary.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    To quote the article:

    “We’ve built bigger buildings, hired more staff, bought lots of technology, established more committees, and stayed in session longer.”

    That’s right, you have. You have also put us on the financial brink of ruin buying all that stuff, as well as acceding to every union thug demand you have been presented with, thus locking us into rip off contracts which have saddled every resident of the state with a huge bill for years to come.

    None of these poor decisions of the past would have been remedied by more frequent meeting of the legislature. Union deal taxpayer ripoffs, hiring staff and buying “lots of technology” are hardly things that are avoided by more frequent meetings of the mischief makers. Indeed they are accelerated by such increase.

    I would suggest that while we figure out how to pay for the abysmal decision making of our legislatures past, we not increase the frequency of the meetings of those that put us here.

    If what to do in the future is indicated by that learned from the past, “A 21st Century legislature” would have less frequent meetings not more. It hardly follows that more frequent drinking of the poison that put one in the hospital will result in a cure.

    • Ron Marquez

      What do you think, Gary ? Anything to what Rupert says here ?

  • Bob Clark

    I’m again’ it. I would propose rather the legislature meet only once every five years, and then, only for 45 days. All we ordinary Oregonians get out of the legislature is more “nanny” laws and more government bureaucracies.

    This slowing in frequency of legislature meeting could be an experiment supplemented by allowing petitioning of citizens to address things of very big importance (as judged by a majority of citizens petitioning) that come up. This way government is moved closer to ordinary Oregonians, and away from the elitists and special interests running Salem.

    • Ron Marquez

      …..”I would propose rather the legislature meet only once every five years, and then, only for 45 days.”…..

      A great idea that will never see the light of day.

      …..”supplemented by allowing petitioning of citizens to address things of very big importance”…..

      Something Kate Brown is sure to embrace.

      …..”This way government is moved closer to ordinary Oregonians, and away from the elitists and special interests running Salem.”…..

      Does “ordinary Oregonians” exlude public employees ?

  • Just say d’oh!

    Very much opposed to annual Orgy-on legislative sessions!
    Really, that’s like doubling up visitations by ‘free loading’ (many perceive ‘FEE’ loading) relativity bent on cracking open and freebasing from our stash of hard earned cash! Nuts!

  • Anonymous

    This is classic government mission creep ushered along with the usual claims that if you let us grow first then we’ll find efficiency.

    Yeah right.

    If the legislature had demonstrated anything remotely resembling responsible behavior in the past 25 years this asinine suggestion that anuhal sessions would “improve the Legislature’s flexibility, responsiveness and efficiency” would be such a “21st Century Joke.

    No offense Gary but just how dumb do you think Oregonians are?

    Ever heard of the “School Reform for the 21st Century”?

    You’re effectively proposing the identical kind of BS with absolute certainty that it will be implemented the same way. And as the efficiency fails miserably to come to fruition the BS will only get deeper with claims it is is working and no one will be held accountable for anything.

  • Anonymous

    Oh I messed that up

    This is classic government mission creep ushered along with the usual claims that if you let us grow first then we’ll find efficiency.

    Yeah right.

    If the legislature had demonstrated anything remotely resembling responsible behavior in the past 25 years this asinine suggestion that annual sessions would “improve the Legislature’s flexibility, responsiveness and efficiency” wouldn’t be such a “21st Century” Joke.

    No offense Gary but just how dumb do you think Oregonians are?

    Ever heard of the “School Reform for the 21st Century”?

    You’re effectively proposing the identical kind of BS with absolute certainty that it will be implemented the same way. And as the efficiency fails miserably to come to fruition the BS will only get deeper with claims it is working and no one will be held accountable for anything.

  • Steve Plunk

    Why would I want an entity I fear to meet more often? They have already proven themselves untrustworthy by having fake annual sessions and I find it insulting they don’t respect the voters or the constitution. I’m a solid no to annual session.

    • Ron Marquez

      …..”I’m a solid no to annual session.”…..

      As are most of us I think but valley p has yet to chime in.

  • Steve Plunk

    BTW, How can the commission recommend an “experiment” with annual sessions before constitutionally authorized? So the commission is as corrupt as the legislature. Nice.

    • Anonymous

      to be fair, there is nothing wrong with a commission to study something just because the something is unconstitutional. there is an amendment process, and if you are considering an amendment, makes sense to study it first.

      still opposed to annual sessions, though. the less they are together, the more we are safe!

      • Steve Plunk

        I certainly agree the commission did nothing wrong by studying the issue. They erred by recommending the “experiment” as it would be outside of the constitutional limitation. It’s funny how bad the legislature wants the annual sessions while the citizens don’t.

  • Don’t be fooled again

    Gary Wilhelms is the epitome of Oregon GOP establishment politics. The type that puts power ahead of principle every time.

    Every time establishment types talk about “bi-partisan” interests in structural reforms, just recognize it as code for maintaining or expanding their power and influence Salem.

    His opposition to term limits and spending limits for Oregon in 2006 were well known in political circles. You can do the math yourself:

    1) annual sessions mean more work for the political establishment on a regular basis – therefore it’s GOOD!

    2) term limits means less stability/predictability for the political establishment – therefore it’s BAD!

    3) spending limits mean fewer favors that can be doled out by the political establishment in good times – therefore it’s REALLY BAD!

    This is the real divide between tea party folks and the GOP establishment. The GOP establishment is just now realizing that the tea party movement is calling their bluff by refusing to nominate the same old dreck just to secure a “working majority”.

    O’Donnell may not be ultimately electable (she seems like a prude airhead to me), but at least she is earnest. She isn’t a known establishment sellout.

    Right now, naive-but-forthright trumps savvy-but-disingenuous by a mile (we’ll strive harder for savvy-and-forthright in 2012).

    Wilhelms and Minnis have had their time on the stage, why can’t they just walk away (and enjoy their PERS)?

  • Anonymous

    Gee why doesn’t Fank Morse jump on this and add it to his call for 2 year legislative reviews of initiative petitions?

    Or has Frank apologized for that stumble?

  • Ricky

    Annual sessions are needed in a state so complex, powerful, rich, and growing. We must have more government feet on the ground in Salem or we will all pay the price.
    Of course we need these sessions.
    Who would be stupid enough to think that politicians could figure out everything they need to in just a session every other year??
    Not only should they be every year, but they should be meeting all the time.

    • Harry

      Exactly, Mr. Ricky!!

      “Annual sessions are needed in a state so complex, powerful, rich, and growing. We must have more government feet on the ground in Salem or we will all pay the price.
      Of course we need these sessions.”

      Oregon has grown up, so we need to be like the “forty-four [legislatures who] currently meet annually.” We must assimilate. We need to be like the other states. Next up: Sales Tax, since 95% of all other states have one of those things too.

      “Who would be stupid enough to think that politicians could figure out everything they need to in just a session every other year?? Not only should they be every year, but they should be meeting all the time.”

      Yes, Oregon used to have ‘citizen legislators’, but we have out grown that quaint little old fashion model. We must have professional legislators who can devote their efforts full time. No doctors, dentists or business people need apply, only professionals. And these professionals must then be paid a professional salary, since they are working full time. Just like 44 out of the other 50 states, say $110K per year, times 90 Reps and Sens.

      “Frankly, the arguments against annual sessions are old hat.” Yep, please don’t bother to refute Mr. Wilhelm’s excellent proposal, drafted by the distinguished panel of committee experts. You will only expose yourself as the unsophisticated rube that you are.

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