Image for Talks Spark Hope of Late Session Revival
Hope swelled after talks occurred that could end the six-week Senate GOP walkout and allow time for some policy bills and budget bills to pass before June 25 sine die.

Budget Bills Readied for Passage Amid Special Session Planning

Hope sprouted at news Democrats and Republicans resumed negotiating to end a six-week Senate walkout that has ground the 2023 Oregon legislative session to a near halt. However, no resolution had been reached by Friday. Parallel discussions occurred about the timing and scope of a potential special legislative session.

The Joint Ways and Means Committee began wrapping up budget bills, with expectations it will unveil the so-called Christmas Tree bill over the weekend. This catch-all spending measure contains lawmaker priority projects and signals sine die is near. Under the state Constitution, the session must end by June 25.

Former Governor Kate Brown has been ordered to be deposed in a class action lawsuit alleging “deliberate indifference” to the health of prison inmates during the COVID pandemic. A federal investigation has begun into former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s controversial work for a cannabis company and an investigation by The Oregonian indicates she misspent state funds on personal travel. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is exploring a civil suit against Fox News over false election claims.

The Oregon Employment Department set minimum and maximum benefits for unemployment and the state’s new paid leave program for the coming year. Oregon detox centers say they have been overwhelmed by growing numbers of patients using fentanyl and meth, as a report quotes police pinning the blame on Measure 110 that decriminalized some drug use.

Senator Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, returning after an extended absence due to heart surgery, and Oregon Kid Governor Lea Andrus, a fifth-grader at Hawks View Elementary School in Sherwood, received standing ovations on the Senate floor Monday. House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson issued a public apology after a picture emerged showing her son giving the Nazi salute in front of a German warplane.

State tourism officials said several attractions have surpassed pre-pandemic tourist visits. Portland downtown office occupancy remains low and Governor Kotek signed the street racing bill. Oregon’s legislative walkout – the longest of any legislature in the nation – made national news, including in Rolling Stone and The New York Times. According to Ballotpedia, Oregon legislative walkouts in 2023, 2021, 2020, 2019 and 2001 represent five of the 10 longest walkouts in U.S. history. The only other state with multiple long legislative walkouts (2) is Texas.

Walkout Negotiations Heat Up
Spirits in the Capitol perked up with news of negotiations to salvage at least part of the session after six weeks of a Senate Republican walkout. Governor Kotek, who earlier tried to jump start an agreement, was visible as part of the negotiations. Hope for resumption of the session had slumped to the point that one person in the quiet Capitol hallways was quoted, “At what point is a state so dysfunctional it reverts to being a territory again?”

Widespread Commentary on Walkout
There was lots of commentary, much of it negative, about the walkout torpedoing the session and sinking hundreds of bills in the process. The week before The Oregonian editorial board condemned the walkout.

Commentary on Bill Summary Readability
One of the issues Senate Republicans cited for walking out was the non-readability of bill summaries. The Oregon Capital Chronicle carried a commentary about the issue and how to fix it.

One Lawmaker’s Walkout Justification
In a constituent communication, Senator Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls on of the absentee senators, cited 10 reasons to justify the walkout. Under the heading, Unlawful, Uncompromising, Unconstitutional Actions, he blamed Democrats in the 2023 session for engaging in hyper-partisan chicanery” by “disenfranchising public participation”, constraining opposition testimony at hearings, turning nonpartisan staff into partisans, bypassing public hearings and “cultivating a culture of retaliation”. Linthicum listed four actions he believes would end the walkout. They include two bills that address abortion and gender-affirming care and gun regulation.

Budget Bills Readied for Votes
Ways and Means subcommittees passed out their final bills and shut down for the session last week. The full Ways and Means Committee met Friday to send out bills, with House bills set for House floor votes early this week. Senate budget bills will join the logjam awaiting floor votes.

The final piece of the budget puzzle, the bonding and Christmas tree bills, are expected to be released by Monday. These bills traditionally contain a laundry list of project funding and are eagerly anticipated by advocates and stakeholders. The Joint Subcommittee on Capital Construction, the lone remaining open subcommittee, will meet Monday or Tuesday to pass the bill, and then the full Ways and Means Committee will meet one final time to send the bills to the floor. The House will likely take up the bills Wednesday, wrapping up their work for the session. They will then wait to see what, if anything, happens in the Senate.

[From the CFM Advocates weekly client update]

Special Session Contingency Planning
Negotiations for a special session ran parallel last week to negotiations to end the Senate GOP walkout. There is growing concern over how operating under a Continuing Resolution would affect state agency operations and funding for schools.

As a result, there is increased urgency to approve a state budget before July 1, the first day of the 2023-25 biennium. Assuming a June 25 adjournment, the legislature will have five days (June 26-30) to complete a special session and okay a budget. These time constraints will likely limit what policies will be considered in the special session, potentially further complicating negotiations.

[From the CFM Advocates weekly client update]

Ex-Gov. Brown Required to Testify
A federal magistrate order former Governor Brown to sit for a deposition in class action lawsuit to answer questions about her response to the spread of the coronavirus that infected 5,000 state inmates and led to the death of 45 prisoners. The Oregon Department of Justice reportedly will appeal the ruling.

Feds Probe Fagan’s Cannabis Connection
A federal probe into former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s ties to a cannabis company has led to subpoenas issued to five state agencies – Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, the Oregon Department of Administrative Services and the Oregon Department of Revenue. Assistant Oregon U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight requested the subpoenas. A grand jury will review evidence.

Oregon AG Explores Fox News Lawsuit
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is investigating the parent company of Fox News with the intent of suing over possible losses to state employee retirement funds because the channel broadcast false claims about the 2020 election. The huge settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, a similar pending lawsuit with another voting machine company and the firing of Fox News host Tucker Carlson have resulted in a sharp drop in the parent company’s stock.

Jobless, Paid Leave Benefits Set
The Oregon Employment Department posted benefit levels for unemployment and paid leave for the next year. For claims filed starting July 2, the minimum weekly benefit for new unemployment insurance claims will go from $183 to $190 per week, and the maximum weekly benefit amount from $783 to $813 per week. For paid leave, when benefits start in September, the minimum weekly benefit will be $63.48 and the maximum $1,523.63.

Meth, Fentanyl Overwhelm Detox Centers
Operators of detox centers say they are overwhelmed by the number of people seeking help for fentanyl and meth use. In an article originally published by The Lund Report, detox operators indicate thousands of people, some without coats in freezing temperatures, have been turned away because of a lack of beds. The Oregon Health Authority reports many detox beds are out of service for lack of staff and 28 out of Oregon’s 36 counties have no withdrawal management services. Some centers only accept patients with private health insurance.

Study Critical of Measure 110
A study from Portland State University indicates Oregon law enforcement officers believe Measure 110, which decriminalized small amounts of drugs, is responsible for the uptick in street drug use and increasing numbers of overdoes. Police say issuing citations to street drug users is not worth the time because few people seek treatment at a result.

Holvey Recall Drive Continues
An influential union remains committed to forcing a recall election for influential Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene and a former union rep, following inaction this session on a bill it supported to make it easier to organize cannabis workers. A group of legislative Democrats failed to persuade union officials to back off. Instead, in a sharp response, the union set in the future it planned to skip legislative efforts to focus on ballot measures.

Tourism Surpasses Pre-Pandemic Level
State officials say Oregon tourism has rebounded and last year reached $13.9 billion in revenue, topping its $12.8 billion total in pre-pandemic 2019. Tourism receipts plunged in 2020 to $6.5 billion. Much of the rebound, state officials said, was due to increased tourism in Portland, despite negative national news.

Oregon Kid Governor
Lea Andrus was selected by fifth graders across Oregon as the state’s Kid Governor. Her winning campaign platform centered on ending bullying. The six other finalists will serve as Andrus’ cabinet members when her one-year term begins in January. According to the Secretary of State’s office, more than 3,200 fifth graders from 127 classrooms participated in the election.

Apology for Son’s Nazi Salute
House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson posted a public apology on Facebook for what she termed her son’s “extremely poor judgment” by posing with a friend on a high school field trip and giving the Nazi salute in front of a World War II German fighter plane at a Madras museum. Breese-Iverson included her son’s written apology that said the action was a “dumb mistake” and “I really get now that doing something bad in the moment without thinking can cause harm.”