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No great expectations

The three legislative sessions kicking in this season – Idaho’s last week, Washington’s this week and Oregon’s next month – have their differences. Idaho’s a regular, ordinary session; Washington’s a regular but abbreviated session intended only to last 60 days; Oregon’s likewise short, but also experimental, an attempt at establishing annual sessions in one of the few states that hasn’t had them. Partisan control varies too: Strongly Democratic in Washington, even more strongly Republican in Idaho, and close-margined (in the House) Democratic control in Oregon.

But all three seem to be headed toward keeping expectations down, avoiding any thought of any big breakthroughs in this season. In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-Spokane) described it, “This isn’t a year of launching new initiatives.” Seems so, and may be smart, in all three cases.

Not, that is, no initiatives or achievements. The phrase “do nothing” is never good medicine for legislators, and agendas have lined up. In Washington, some budget restructuring and sex offender regulation ideas probably will kick through. In Oregon, it’s rebuilding the state patrol force, some public accountability measures that seem to have picked up some steam, and maybe some limited land use followup. In Idaho, transportation (including local option) and a few tax measures seem to have more push, along with a small scattering of other items (dog fighting bans, for instance).

But election year sessions are usually limited affairs anyway, and all three states have reason not to push things too far this time. Oregon’s legislators, generally supportive of annual sessions, want one that succeeds on its own level, meaning that it at least meets expectations; the best way to accomplish that is to keep expectations low, and reasonably so after a quite productive 2007 session. Washington’s legislators have been more than usually productive in a couple of the most recent sessions; with an election year coming, and time limited, why push it? Idaho’s legislators are in cramped spaces, and the operating majority doesn’t seem to have big ambitions for this session anyway.

We’ll be watching. But we’re not expecting statehouse explosions.

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