2013 Session Recap: Dem-controlled stalemate

Gail WhitsettDems abuse their majority – 94% of bills adopted were Dem, only 6% were Republican

by Rep. Gail Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls)

The 77th Legislative Session concluded July 8, 2013.

578 bills crossed the floor of the House and 512 of those House bills were later passed by the Senate.

355 Senate bills were passed by Senate and 319 were later also passed by the House, for a total of 831 bills, memorials and resolutions passing through the legislature. Many policy and budget bills are still awaiting the Governor’s signature, the final hurdle in the legislative process.

An analysis of the origin of policy and budget bills (not including resolutions or memorials that have no statutory authority) finds that a total of 48 adopted bills were chief sponsored by Republicans. The other 766 were chief sponsored by Democrats either as individual legislators, measure co-sponsors, Democrat controlled committees or administrative agency bills whose directors are appointed by a Democrat Governor.

This analysis defines the partisan and intra-partisan rancor of the last six months. The Senate Democrat leadership ended the session by killing 62 House bills by not allowing them hearings or votes in the Senate.

Many of these were bi-partisan bills, like the “Meth disclosure” bill (HB 3499) that I introduced on behalf of the Jonathan Hankins family and the citizens of Oregon. HB 3499 was passed by the House of Representatives with unanimous bi-partisan support 60-0. The Democrat Speaker of the House and the Speaker Pro-Tempore helped me shepherd this bill through the chamber in a timely fashion because they, like the rest of the members, believed it was good policy. This bill is desperately needed and was probably the ultimate consumer protection bill of the year, considering the estimated millions of Fannie May and Freddie Mac foreclosed auction homes that may be meth contaminated throughout the US. HB 3499 would have been the first bill of its type in the entire United States and a measure for Oregon to be very proud of passing into law.

Senate President Peter Courtney killed the bill by assigning it to  a “dead committee” in early June. He has yet to give any reason for killing HB 3499.

The Senate Republican minority tried to “pull the bill to the floor from committee” during the final days of the session. Democrat Senate Leadership forced a procedural vote; thereby, forcing their party members to vote no and preventing the bill from coming to the Senate floor for a vote. We know there were enough bipartisan votes, including Democrat sponsors, to pass the bill had it been allowed an up or down vote. Senate President Peter Courtney and Senate Majority leader Diane Rosenbaum refused to allow it.

The final days of the legislature were marked by intense intra-party bickering. Democrat leadership in both chambers killed bills apparently because they could. Their unilateral actions left about 86 other legislators, of both parties, and their constituencies across the state disenfranchised.

We as Oregonians deserve so much more from our government than to have three or four highly partisan majority party leaders controlling the fate of the entire legislative process.

We have all heard of some of the successes of the legislative session due to extra revenue available to the budget and also the dismal failure to achieve significant PERS reform, which will result in more stress to county governments, on schools and public safety. I think it is equally important for the public to understand the stalemate we are experiencing in state government even when both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office are controlled by a single party.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of the legislative process and to represent Klamath and Lake Counties.  House Bill 3499 will be re-introduced in the 2014 session. I was a sponsor on over 50 bills, many of which were bi-partisan, that dealt with sustainable use of our rural natural resources, working on DEQ water quality bills which would have helped Klamath County with its TMDL and water well issues, promoting STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education in our schools; veterans’ education, public safety and Oregon State Police, improving nutrition for Women Infants and Children; Second Amendment freedoms; freeing up some of the $350 million languishing in the Energy Trust fund; and cutting back on the millions of dollars of fraud in the welfare system. Additional bills that were never given hearings dealt with developing small business incubators, telecommunications; land use; and PERS reform. Of the 59 mostly bipartisan bills I helped sponsor, many did not even receive a hearing.