The 2021 Oregon legislature has convened, re-electing Tina Kotek as House Speaker and Peter Courtney as Senate President to record-setting consecutive terms in those posts. Opening ceremonies on Monday followed the release of some 2,500 freshly minted bills posted on Sunday night, putting the 2021 session on track for a record-setting number of legislative proposals.
The session will once again be virtual, with all the technological challenges that lawmakers, advocates and citizens have faced in previous special sessions, except this time for a longer duration.
Much of this week will be devoted to ramping up the legislative session, with training sessions and orientation. Focus will be given by legislative leaders to enhanced security at the Capitol, as the FBI issued a warning of potential violent demonstrations at all 50 state capitols between now and January 20 when Joe Biden is inaugurated as President.
One of the first actions taken by Kotek was to strip Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, of his legislative committee positions, fine him $2,000 and require him to give 24-hours notice when entering the Capitol. She also urged him to resign. Nearman was captured on security video opening a door and allowing protesters to enter the sealed-off Capitol and disrupt last month’s one-day special session.
A similar, but separate review is under way for Senator Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, who has engaged in fiery rhetoric patterned after President Trump. Heard also may face discipline.
The session will once again be virtual, with all the technological challenges that lawmakers, advocates and citizens have faced in previous special sessions, except this time for a longer duration. One upside is people who testify at hearings can do so from their kitchens without driving to Salem and hanging out for hours at the Capitol. A few floor votes will occur, but most votes of consequence will be postponed until the spring, when legislative leaders hope the spread of the coronavirus will have subsided.
The odd-year session, which can extend until July, is when lawmakers approve state spending levels for the 2021-2023 biennium that begins July 1. That job will be less arduous because state tax revenues have grown, not declined during the pandemic. However, there will still be challenges to meet needs and demands for human services, education and transportation sectors. Those challenges could be mitigated if the incoming Biden administration can negotiate another federal financial aid package through Congress that includes resources for state and local governments.
Due to logistical hurdles and the collective toll of the pandemic, legislators have been urged to resist tackling too many controversial issues. Lawmakers are expected to continue addressing pandemic-related issues, from financial assistance for struggling individuals and businesses to accelerating coronavirus vaccinations. Wildfire relief also will be front and center. Conversations surround a package of concepts to address social justice issues and policing reforms. The business community continues to push for liability protections that would extend to hospitals, restaurants and nonprofits.