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Lawmakers and aides mingle after sine die, the final adjournment of the assembly without a day being set for reconvening, at the Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem, Ore. on Friday, March 4, 2022. (Brian Hayes/Statesman-Journal via AP)
SARA CLINE Associated Press/Report for America
Published: 07 March 2022

Oregon lawmakers adjourned the 2022 short legislative session Friday after passing ambitious legislation, including overtime pay for farmworkers, $600 stimulus payments for low-income workers and a $400 million spending package focused on affordable housing and homelessness.

"When we first convened— and I addressed this chamber for the first time as speaker I said that, ‘I believed" that this could be the most significant short session we’ve ever had' and I truly believed that," said House Speaker Dan Rayfield. “Today, I want to thank all of you and the community, because together we got truly an incredible amount of work done in service of our communities and Oregonians across the state.”

Republicans, who are in the minority in both chambers, had argued that during the traditional short session lawmakers should have focused on addressing budget fixes and technical issues from the previous year.

However, Democrats remained adamant that some larger challenges needed to be addressed — including the pandemic, historic wildfires, affordable housing, access to health care and workforce disparities.

“We know that Oregonians have had a few tough years,” said House Majority Leader Julie Fahey.

“The work we accomplished this session will help us rebuild an economy that works for all Oregonians, not just the wealthiest of individuals and largest corporations, but our Main Street businesses and working families.”

Overtime for farmwokers

One of the bills Republicans specifically criticized for being a “big issue” they said should be addressed during long sessions that occur during odd-numbered years requires farmworkers be paid 1.5 times their normal rate once they work more than 40 hours a week.

The bill passed on party lines, but not without Republicans showing their displeasure and reserving their right to require that bills be read in full before a final vote. Parties have routinely agreed to waive the constitutional rule it in the interest of efficiency until it became a popular bargaining chip for Republicans in 2016.

Most of the session was slow-paced as a computer would read bills out loud in the House and Chamber for hours a day.

But unlike past sessions, when Democrats accused Republicans of obstructionism, leaders planned for the delay tactic and chose to prioritize bills in such a way that they could complete their work even if each was read in full.

Less tense even among delay tactics

“Reading bills is part of how we govern now and the Ds are getting better at it,” Senate President Peter Courtney said Friday. “We had a plan... even if they read us to the end. We were going to be able to get through this thing.”

oregon legislature session ends introRep. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, slides down the stairs after sine die, the final adjournment of the assembly without a day being set for reconvening, at the Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem, Ore. on Friday, March 4, 2022. (Brian Hayes/Statesman-Journal via AP)
On Thursday, Republicans waived the rule to read bills in full and lawmakers proceeded to barrel through 60 bills.

Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp said that although there were some bipartisan bills, the session revealed a “need for balance” in Oregon's Capitol.

"Unfortunately, we left a lot of good policy left on the table. Short sessions reveal priorities, and the majority’s priorities were misplaced in many cases," Knopp said.

However when compared to other sessions, this one was seemingly less tense than previous ones — most recently September’s redistricting special session that was marked by a broken deal, GOP walkout and accusations of gerrymandering.

One considerable olive branch came when Democrats proposed $100 million for lawmakers to spend essentially as they see fit in their rural Oregon districts. The investment passed.

New leadership

In addition, this session there was a wave of new leadership. The House elected a new speaker: Rayfield. The Democrat from Corvalis replaced longtime House Speaker Tina Kotek, who stepped down to focus on her campaign for governor. In addition Democratic Rep. Julie Fahey became the new House majority leader, Republican Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson the new House minority leader and Sen. Tim Knopp is the new Republican leader for the Senate.

oregon legislature session ends courtneySenate president Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and state Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, talk in Courtney's office after sine die, the final adjournment of the assembly without a day being set for reconvening, at the Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem, Ore. on Friday, March 4, 2022. (Brian Hayes/Statesman-Journal via AP)
“You can fight all over the place and you can get angry, but you’ll get the job done and that’s exactly how I described what happened this session,” said Sen. Courtney. “It’s a matter of personalities and I think it’s the personalities that drove (the session) this time around.”

This session also was the final one for Courtney, a Salem Democrat, who is the Oregon’s longest-serving state lawmaker with 38 years.

“He has been a legend,” said Republican Sen. Fred Girod. “And the state’s a heck of a lot better because Peter Courtney has been here.”

Courtney in laconic fashion declined to comment on the fact that this was likely his last time swinging the gavel — presuming that there are no near special sessions, but did offer some thoughts about the successes over the last five weeks.

“The 2022 session has ended. We worked hard. We passed a good budget. We fixed important problems.

There were tough fights, but we all fought for Oregonians," Courtney said.

“The Legislature has done its most important duty: to make the state better today than it was yesterday. I think we did OK.”

It was also the last session for Democrat Rep. Anna Williams, a 42-year-old lawmaker, who — along with Rep. Karin Power, a 38-year-old attorney, and Rachel Prusak, a 46-year-old nurse practitioner, — announced last week that they would not seek re-election as they can no longer afford to serve, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

“When we decided I would run, my spouse and I decided it would never be about the money,” Williams said. “We would cut costs, take extra jobs or do whatever it took to keep our bills paid, while I pursued this job I believed it was my calling. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true.”

The Legislature is technically a part-time job, paying a base salary of about $33,000. During this session lawmakers considered a bill that would raise salaries to about $57,000 per year, but it failed.

This was also the last session for Gov. Kate Brown who is term-limited. The Democrat proposed a $200 million “Future Ready Oregon” workforce development plan, which aims to prioritize key populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and existing disparities. The spending package passed.

“Future Ready Oregon will open the door of opportunity to communities around the state," Brown said. “I hope it will be a game changer, in terms of ensuring that our businesses and our economy can continue to hum and our families can thrive.”

The session began in the midst of Oregon’s omicron surge and ended a week before the state is set to lift the statewide indoor mask mandate and nearly two weeks before the end of a two-year long COVID-19 emergency declaration.

Decreasing coronavirus-related safety measures and restrictions were noticeable in the Capitol where the public was allowed to attend the session in-person for the first time since March 2020. However both lawmakers and the public were required to wear masks in the building – a mandate that was protested by Republicans.

Noteable actions

During the session the Senate voted 18-9 to temporarily kick Republican Sen. Dallas Heard out of the building for not complying with the mask requirement and refusing to leave the chamber.

Some of the notable bills that passed this session included heat relief for vulnerable Oregonians, protections for election workers, setting up rulemaking for the private forest accord, giving nurses access to a program that provides mental health and wellness support and preventing police officers from stopping motorists for some minor infraction.

The Legislature also passed a bill that aims to forestall tragedy upon tragedy when a megaquake strikes the Pacific Northwest. The measure, passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate this week, requires owners or operators of bulk oils and liquid fuels terminals located in the Portland area and in Lane County to conduct and submit seismic vulnerability assessments and then to implement a seismic risk mitigation implementation plan.

Experts say Oregon faces a potential nightmare scenario unless work is done to fortify its main fuel storage facility against a major earthquake, which is expected to come sooner or later. More than 90% of the state’s liquid fuels are stored at the aging Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub along the Willamette River in northwest Portland.

In addition lawmakers passed significant spending packages, made possible by $2.5 billion in revenue that wasn’t taken into account when the state budget was passed last year.

One of the largest investments was $400 million to urgently address affordable housing and homelessness in a state that has one of the highest rates of unhoused people in the country.

Lawmakers also passed a $300 million investment focused on supporting school staff and students. The funds will go toward summer learning programs and activities for K-12 students, addressing the workforce shortage and supporting school districts impacted by the wildfires. In addition, lawmakers passed $100 million investment to expand access to affordable child care.

 

Associated Press writer Andrew Selsky contributed to this report.

Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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