Oregon legislative ‘short session’ could have been worse

Sen Doug Whitsett

by Sen. Doug Whitsett

The recently concluded 2016 legislative session included the enactment of several laws and budget decisions that will be extremely destructive to Oregon small businesses and private sector job security. However, the 30-day session may also be measured by a number of other really bad bills that did not become law.

The twelve members of the Senate Republican caucus do not have enough votes to either pass or stop any bill from passing. But by using accepted parliamentary procedures, we were able to work together to slow down the process enough to help prevent many of the more destructive bills from reaching a floor vote during the abbreviated legislative session. We managed to secure amendments to several other bills that made them less damaging.

House Bill 4035 would have required the Department of Revenue to submit to the Legislative Revenue Officer information from Oregon tax returns about certain corporations doing business in the state. It also would have required the Legislative Revenue Officer to make that confidential financial information available in a public report.

A public hearing was held on HB 4035 in the House Committee on Revenue February 10, but the bill saw no further action.

HB 4073 would have added secular organizations and current members of the Legislature to the list of persons and entities authorized to solemnize marriages. It passed the House on a 35-20 vote February 5 and the Senate February 29 on a 17-10 vote. But because the contents of the bill had been amended in the process, the House needed to concur with those changes. It did not, and the bill died.

A previous version of the same bill was introduced in the 2015 regular session, and included former members of the Legislature. The apparent intent of these measures was to force current and former Republican lawmakers, some of who have strong moral objections to same-sex marriage, to perform such ceremonies under threat of penalty.

HB 4131 would have required financial institutions to participate in a data match system established by the Department of Revenue to identify assets held at them by delinquent debtors. The bill amended Oregon garnishee law, allowing certain assets to be subject to garnishee across state lines by both government and private entities.

The bill passed the House February 26 on a 43-13 vote and was referred to the Ways and Means Committee March 1. It was passed out of that committee and had its second reading in the Senate that same day. But a motion referring it to the Senate Health Care Committee passed 28-0 on the Senate floor March 2. The bill was still in that committee upon the session’s adjournment.

A very controversial bill, HB 4147, would have prohibited the transfer of a firearm by a dealer or private party for 10 business days if the Department of State Police was unable to determine whether the recipient is qualified to receive the firearm. The bill represented one more effort to limit the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Oregonians.

HB 4147 passed the House February 22 on a narrow 31-28 vote. However, it was referred to the Senate Rules Committee, where no further action was taken on the bill.

Also controversial was SB 1530. If passed, this bill would have required certain state agencies to consult with certain federal agencies to determine whether state and federal mining programs can be better coordinated. The bill was originally the result of social conflict between a few southern Oregon suction dredge miners and other river users. However, it morphed into a bill that would have essentially banned mining in or near any perennial of intermittent stream or river in almost all of the state.

A public hearing and work session was held on SB 1530 in the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources February 9. As a member of that committee, I voted against it, along with Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby).

SB 1530 was sent to the Ways and Means Committee February 16. It remained there upon adjournment.

SB 1545 would have authorized the formation of children’s special districts, for the sake of levying property taxes to fund programs that offer services provided outside of school hours to students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

This bill passed out of the Senate Committee on Human Services and Early Childhood February 8 on a 3-2 vote, with both Republicans on that body in opposition. It was then referred to Senate Finance and Revenue and given two public hearings, but did not advance any further in the process.

SB 1550 would have directed the presiding judges of judicial districts to ensure that grand jury proceedings are recorded. This bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee February 10, but was referred to Ways and Means, where it died.

SB 1559 would have required sellers of tobacco products or inhalant delivery systems to be licensed by the Department of Revenue. The bill had little to do with tobacco safety and everything to do with competition between corporate giants and small business convenience stores. Passage of the act would have represented yet another action of corporate cronyism.

It passed out of the Senate Committee on Health Care February 11 on a 3-2 party-line vote, with both Republicans on the committee in opposition.

The bill passed out of the full Ways and Means Committee February 25 on a 15-8 vote. I voted against it, along with Rep. Gail Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls) and many Republican members of that committee. We were successful in getting SB 1559 sent back to the Senate Health Care Committee on March 3, where it remained when the legislature adjourned.

One of the worst bills of the short session, SB 1574, would have established a statewide “cap and trade” system under the guise of saving the environment. The bill would have enacted what amounts to an enormous sales tax on all fossil fuels.

In an attempt to make the measure more sellable to Republicans from rural parts of the state, it was referred to as “cap and invest,” with the premise being that some of the proceeds raised from it would be reinvested in rural areas.

Two public hearings were held on SB 1574 in the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on February 2 and 3, and a work session was held February 9. Sen. Olsen and I voted against it, but were outnumbered by our Democratic colleagues on that committee.

SB 1574 was referred to the Ways and Means Committee February 11, and, fortunately, remained there upon adjournment. Unfortunately, funding for a Department of Environmental Quality study was included in another end-of-session bill. Count on seeing this one again in the 2017 session.

While the 2016 session was among the most partisan I have witnessed or participated in throughout the nearly 12 years I’ve served in the Senate, it arguably could have been worse. The enactment of the aforementioned measures, as well as a plethora of other really bad bills, would have done even more harm to our state.

But make no mistake—many, if not all, of these bills, will return in some form or another in the 2017 session. The Democrat majorities are likely to enact most of them into law. No amount of Republican procedural motions can stop that tide during a regular five-month legislative session.

That is why it is so critical that Oregonians vote to elect legislators who will oppose bills that serve to destroy jobs, small businesses, family values and Second Amendment constitutional rights.

Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls