The 2022 Oregon legislature convenes next week with new leaders, 250 bills to consider and a lingering pandemic that will keep all legislative hearings virtual.
In addition to the core responsibility of finetuning the 2021-2023 state budget, lawmakers will take up issues dealing with overtime pay for agricultural workers, a tax credit to attract more firefighter volunteers, a redemption fee on wine sold in cans and a paycheck protection program for behavioral health providers facing a workforce crisis.
Other bills expected on the docket include a measure allowing the legislature to impeach a governor and a concept that would require manufacturers of Oregon college team jerseys, video games and playing cards to pay royalties, as are now allowed by the NCAA, to each player whose image is used.
Legislation will be reintroduced with significant changes to phase in mandatory use of renewable diesel for on-road commercial trucks and vehicles. Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, plans to introduce a bill for compassionate medical release of seriously ill state prisoners.
Even-year sessions, which are constitutionally limited to 35 days, were originally intended as budget sessions and an opportunity for tweaking laws and addressing emergencies. Now, just about anything goes, as long as the wheels are greased to move a bill quickly through both houses of the legislature without opposition or major amendments. The first do-or-die bill deadline occurs February 14.
The House will have a new speaker for the first time in a decade. Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, was chosen by the House Democratic Caucus and should be approved by the full House to succeed Tina Kotek when the legislature convenes. There also are fresh faces leading the House and Senate Republican caucuses since the end of the 2021 legislative session. And, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, has announced he won’t seek re-election this year, ending his record-setting 20-year tenure as presiding officer of the upper chamber.
Political division remains rife. In filling Republican vacancies, candidates have been asked whether they will join their caucuses in protest walkouts. Ag worker overtime and public health mandates could be sparks for walkouts like what happened in the shortened, ineffective 2020 legislative session.
While the Capitol will nominally be open to the public, legislative hearings and public testimony will be virtual. There will be limited options for conference rooms, meeting space and in-person conversations for the session. The Capitol is still under construction, with more yet to come with new funding to make the main structure more resilient.
Interim committee hearings foreshadow issues that might arise. The Joint Interim Committee on Transportation heard a report on the I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement, which drew comments and questions about designing a bridge with updated traffic estimates and addressing congestion pricing and interstate highway tolling in the Portland area.
While the Capitol will nominally be open to the public, legislative hearings and public testimony will be virtual. The Capitol is still under construction, with more yet to come with new funding to make the main structure more resilient.
The House Interim Committee on Judiciary reviewed a bill draft by Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, that seeks to address inequities in Oregon courts related to justified use of physical force, disqualification of judges and jury selection.
The candidate filing deadline looms immediately after the 2022 session adjourns. The House floor has traditionally become a beehive for politicos on the lookout for last-minute entrants. In the past, some candidates made dramatic, moments-to-spare filings a political art form.
Several sitting legislators are running for higher office, including Reps. Andrea Salinas and Teresa Alonso Leon who are running for the Democratic nomination for Oregon’s next Sixth Congressional District and former House Republican Leader Christine Drazan who is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination and announced last week she will resign her House seat effective January 31. One or more sitting lawmakers are expected to throw their hat in the ring to succeed Val Hoyle as Labor Commissioner. Hoyle is running as a Democrat to succeed Fourth District Congressman Peter DeFazio.