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Posts tagged as “Oregon Legislature”

Minimum wage emergency?

harrislogo1

“During my tenure, I was adamant that the governor’s office and his closest advisers not blur the lines between state interest and other matters. My concern was seen as disloyalty. I was viewed as an outsider who did not understand the way that they did business. I was told that as long as things were good it did not matter whether things were right.”

So said a Kitzhbazer staffer to Nkenge Harmon Johnson after she objected to a process abuse. (The Oregonian, 11/3/14)

This isn’t just a case of a rogue Democratic Governors office. It’s endemic in the Oregon Democratic Leadership. If they think a policy is good, then abuse of process is irrelevant.

It’s now become John Oliver-esque with the laugh in your face abuse of the Constitutional emergency clause in regards to Oregon’s new minimum wage legislation.

Article IV, Section 28 of the Oregon Constitution provides that Legislation take effect no sooner than 90 days after the close of the Legislative Session, except in cases of “emergency”.

The reason for the delay is because the Oregon Constitution grants to “The People” the ability to challenge any law passed by the Legislature during that 90 days by gathering signatures and referring it to the people. If citizens gather about 60,000 signatures, the law is stayed and placed on the next general election ballot for an up or down vote.

If however, the State faces an impending emergency, then that 90 days can be waived by including an emergency clause. (And apparently 68% of all legislation now carries an emergency clause)

Emergency isn’t defined in the Constitution. So, just as Mitch McConnell can rightly say that there is no requirement in the US Constitution to allow a vote on an Obama appointment to the Supreme Court, Oregon Legislators can append an emergency clause to any legislation without explanation and negate the right of referral. Negating constitutional requirements or rights shouldn’t be taken so lightly perhaps. But I guess it’s politics. And that’s what the Democratic legislators did with the minimum wage bill.

With an emergency clause legislation takes effect immediatly, and if the people are to challenge it, the law will stay in place and the challengers need to go through a longer and more costly process of filing an initiative and petition.

But perhaps there was an emergency in this case?

Without an emergency clause, the minimum wage legislation would have taken effect 90 days after the 2016 legislative session ended, or June 5th, 2016l. If someone challenged the law within this time period by gathering signatures for a referral the minimum wage law would have been stayed until November, 5, 2016 and we’d vote on it.

But the Legislature believed that the wage crisis was an emergency and we had to raise the minimum wage immediately and we couldn’t wait 90 days. No, just kidding.

Because here’s the thing. The law doesn’t raise the Oregon minimum wage until July 1, 2016. That’s a full 115 days after the legislative session ends. So an increase in the minimum wage is such an emergency that we can’t wait 90 days, however we can wait 115 days?

And it’s even more ludicrous. Because the wage increase in July 2016 is only twenty five cents and The larger increases are phased in over 6 years. Some emergency. One that doesn’t start until 115 days after the session, then can be addressed over a 6 year period of time.

For those of us who believe in the spirit of due process, regardless of your position on the minimum wage, it’s beyond frustrating. Because it’s the process of law, and abiding by the spirit (substantive due process) and letter of that process (procedural dues process) that protects our constitutional rights and gives legitimacy to our government. When lawmakers intentionally violate or abuse due process they damage our democracy.

But as far as Oregon Democratic leaders are concerned I guess …as long as things are good it does not matter whether things are right.

First take/session

Oregon legislative days for this month are cranking in, with what's looking like a preview of the regular session in February. What's on deck? The loud protests calling for a statewide raise in the minimum wage (which otherwise isn't slated to be raised this cycle) are getting top attention, and seem to be the leading Democratic issue. Representative Brian Clem had a useful comment about it, though: "Inside the building, the noise will probably be about minimum wage. I see it as rural versus urban — can we have one statewide minimum wage policy?" Or put another way, is there a way to separate it out? Other hot topics mentioned more by Republicans are led by PERS - which will be a big budget topic in the next biennium - and transport funding. Whatever else, the next session is likely to be devoted to very practical matters. - rs

And they’re done, for now

since die

Representative Arnie Roblan at one of the last debates/Oregon Channel

Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt had remarked that he hoped to adjourn for the year by sundown today. He missed that mark, but by less than an hour - a close bit of timing, indicative of the kind of tight operation the Oregon Legislature (moreso in the House, but largely too in the Senate) has had this year.

There are a number of familiar complaints from the not distant past you can't make about this session. You can't say it was unproductive; this may have been the most productive session in a generation (probably moreso than 2007, which also delivered a lot of substance). You can't say it was an especially bitter session; there were occasional scrapes, but the House particularly seemed (at least so far as we could tell) to run without excess conflict. Did it address the issues before the state? It clearly did.

The big unanswered point is what Oregonians will make of all that productivity. Were the answers - most notably on taxes, but maybe on some other subjects as well - acceptable? Did the controlling Democrats, in other words, overreach?

The initial guess here is, probably not; the tax measures and a lot of the most sensitive legislation generally seemed pretty carefully trimmed and crafted to survive attack. But it's a close call. Ballot issues are in the wind, and they may provide a good indicator of what the 2010 voters have to say about the makeup of the next legislature. And other offices too.

From the wreckage of the New Carissa

New Carissa

New Carissa/Wikipedia

Some before too long, someone will write a history of the Pacific Coast - not the land side, but the water. Many things have been happening there in the last few decades. Populations of marine life have risen and fallen. We've seen dead zones, and unusual swirls of high-motion water. There's a whole natural story out there awaiting the telling.

Soon, we'll have many more of the pieces of that story. Oregon House Bill 3013A, which just cleared the Oregon Senate (of 90 legislators, just three voted in opposition) and likely will soon be signed into law by Governor Ted Kulongoski, sets up two "historic reserves" in areas off the coast, and a process for evaluating four more for inclusion. Each reserve would be thoroughly studied. Much of the money for that (you were wondering, weren't you?) will come from funds paid in after the grounding of the cargo ship called the New Carissa, just over a decade ago near Coos Bay, spilling fuel and causing other damage.

Senator Joanne Verger, who is from Coos Bay, remarked that “Our community endured a lot when the New Carissa ran aground in Coos Bay. It started out as this huge hassle, eventually it became a great tourist attraction, and then it was taken away over our objections. I am glad this Legislature has recognized the nexus between the damage that was caused and the need to use the money for the betterment of our coastal resources.”

A description from the group Our Ocean:

HB-3013A describes the plan for establishing marine reserves at Otter Rock near Depoe Bay and Redfish Rocks near Port Orford. It also lays the groundwork for a set of community groups to evaluate marine reserves proposed for Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, Cape Perpetua and Cape Arago.
This effort could not be more timely: the ocean faces growing pressure from climate change, pollution and a variety of other human impacts. In May, delegates from more than 70 nations at the World Ocean Conference urged concerted action to address threats to ocean health, and 400 scientists signed a consensus statement describing marine protected areas as part of the solution.
With the approval of HB-3013-A, Oregon is poised to join California and Washington in science-based ocean protection using marine reserves. In total, 22 U.S. states and 29 countries around the world use these proven tools to safeguard the long-term health and productivity of the ocean.

Plenty of eyes will be on the process, and whatever it comes up with.

In the Klamath, a baby step

klamath

A dam on the Klamath River

When the sponsor of Senate Bill 76 stood up in the Oregon House today, an obvious question arose immediately. The sponsor was Representative Ben Cannon, a Portland Democrat. The bill has to do with removal of four dams on the Klamath River, about 300 miles south from Portland. So why Cannon and not someone more local?

After all, the bill was described as (this is from the official House Democratic description) "the product of a negotiated agreement between Oregon, Washington, California, the federal government and PacifiCorp. It is supported by over two dozen groups including agriculture interests, conservation groups, utility companies, Native American tribes and other affected participants who developed the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement."

Sounds pretty sweeping. And Cannon was a capable floor sponsor. But the rest of the story emerged right after, as the representative from the Klamath Falls area (his district covers the river basin area in question) stood to speak against the bill. That was Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, who offered an impassioned argument against the bill.

There's a long history here, as anyone who's followed the Klamath debate knows, ranging from water shutoffs to full flows, variously helping and hurting fish, farmers and other interests. There have been high-profile protests and much more.

The recent settlement, from last year, appeared to bring an end of much of this - at least put an end in sight, with proposed demolition (years from now, probably after 2020) of four dams and a string of concessions to various parties. On the surface, it looked like a deal (somewhat resembling in construct the Nez Perce/Snake River deal in Idaho a few years back). However. (more…)

Restarting the music

Hass

Mark Hass

On Wednesday, Oregon Senator Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, ground the budget/tax express to a screech halt with his vote aligning with Senate Republicans on the first of two major tax bills - a vote just enough to defeat the House-passed first bill (and by implication, the second) on the Senate floor.

This morning, reversal. "I believe it's okay to say, 'stop the music,'" he said of his Wednesday vote - but today he opted to restart it, rejoining the other Senate Democrats on two key bills (3405 and 2649) which fill in the last of the budget pieces. Things had changed, he said, including some legislation proceeding in the House, including some changes in the rainy day fund and elsewhere. He made allusion, though, to intensive discussions with other legislators "over the last 12 hours," and no doubt they were intensive. Would've been a great fly-on-the-wall situation.

The Republicans knew it was coming: Wednesday, there was little Republican debate on the bills, but today, there was plenty - most of the Senate Republicans (all in opposition to the bills) had their say on the floor. There were some unusually passionate debates, on both sides (Larry George and Brian Boquist standing out among the Republicans, and Vicki Walker among the Democrats). Hass spoke but relatively briefly.

The upshot this morning is that the Senate did pass both both bills, with just the 18 votes needed.

Just before the debate began, Majority Leader Richard Devlin made a passing reference to the speedy approach of sine die adjournment. After this morning's action, it surely got a little closer than it seemed yesterday afternoon.

Doing its thing

Jeff Kropf

Lost in a lot of the discussion about the merits of the often large-scale pieces of legislation the Oregon Legislature has been working on - and there is some real scale, and a lot of that scale is monetary - is another point: This has been turning into a steadily productive session. Piece by piece, major slices of legislation have been produced, voted on and - in major cases - passed. If you don't like the legislation, this may not be such a good thing. But this has been a productive session, one of the most productive (along with 2007) over the last few decades.

They kicked off with a massive stimulus program (the value of which we have yet to assess, but which was a big effort). And the legislation has kept on coming. A big transportation bill, and a big health care bill (involving tens of thousands of people covered), major change in taxation, all in recent days. And a string of prospectively tricky pieces of legislation (workplace religious freedom, for instance) handled smoothly. You get the impression of a large factory, with few or no production slowdowns.

They're talking in terms of a wrapup by the end of June, which would make it one of the shortest in recent years. (2007 ended on June 28, but you have to go back to 1995 to find an earlier close.) A few years ago, the idea of this level of productivity with so few hangups would have been almost inconceivable. Worth noting.

What could go wrong?

One of the tricky parts of legislating is the element of light prognostication it entails: Trying to imagine what the actual effects of a piece of legislation could be, where the land mines might lie.

Congress didn't do that when it passed the Real ID Act in 2005; it contains so many potential problems that not only have 23 states approved anti-RID measures, and not only is there a Homeland Security (please, change the name of that department) secretary in opposition to the measure, but every state has asked for an extension for participating (even though it supposedly went into effect a little over a year ago). (The department's own description is also on line.)

The Oregon Legislature now has passed Senate Bill 536, sponsored by Senator Rick Metsger, D-Welches, that at least would stop the effort until there's money from the federal government to help pay for it.

Some of the best-known provisions relate to the pass of paperwork intended to be associated with drivers licenses. The Oregonian notes Metsger's comments that "Oregon has already taken steps to secure state driver's licenses. But, Metsger says, other Real ID provisions are expensive or threaten Oregonians' privacy. For example, he said, Real ID would allow agencies to electronically scan and share copies of original identity documents - such as birth certificates, passports, and Social Security cards in a shared database."

Oh?

As a commenter to that story pondered: "now what could possibly go wrong here . . ."

A lower target?

The crucial revenue estimate for Oregon came out on schedule this morning, and while not-good, it wasn't as bad as legislators were preparing themselves for. The new numbers pin the revenue shortfall at about $3.5 billion - an enormous deal, but still maybe a billion better than had been expected.

An interesting point is the reviving talk about tax options, something that had been mentioned only peripherally before. There's talk now about an upper-income bracket increase, to raise taxes on those reporting a quarter-million or more. (In Washington a related thought - different in that it would have meant creation of an income tax where there currently is none - was raised but withdrawn.)

And now Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian notes that talk of revenue increases is centering around the figure of a billion dollars or so.

Some of this may be in the form of trial ideas, tests to see how they fly when legislators talk with the folks back home. That may have some impact on how they fare over the next few weeks, as the budget picture begins to take hold.

So, taxes in Oregon?

They wouldn't do it in Idaho - no surprise there.

They wouldn't do it in Washington either, which did take some people by surprise.

Now - will the Oregon Legislature raise taxes to cop with their state's huge revenue shortfall?

The exact situation will come into focus this week, when the May revenue estimate is delivered - the last major one this session is likely to get. Big cuts are almost certainly going to happen in any event. But will taxes, in some form or other, be raised to fill the gaps?

There doesn't seem to be much affirmative discussion of the idea at Salem, at least publicly. The Eugene Register-Guard's piece today on the matter may provide some clarity: "No detailed tax package has emerged so far this session, but behind-the-scenes discussions suggest that the Democratic majority in Salem wants to concentrate its pursuit of higher taxes on wealthy Oregonians and profitable corporations."

Consider that maybe an early indicator.