Local legislator explains hopes for experimental February session

by: Photo by Bob Schoenberg, Oregon Rep. Larry Galizio, D-District 35, sits with constituents in a Tigard Starbucks on Jan. 20 in an informal meeting to discuss what to expect in the upcoming February meeting of the State Legislature.

TIGARD - Larry Galizio, the Democratic state representative for District 35, which represents King City and Tigard, met with a handful of constituents at a Tigard Starbucks Jan. 20 to talk about the Oregon Legislature's experimental February session.

'My hope for the session is that we can get these priorities taken care of,' Galizio said. 'And to not have long protracted fights … to have an effective and efficient legislature so that the citizenry get what they deserve.'

On the agenda for the Democrats is the consideration of increased resources for seniors who are in assisted living, adult foster care or who are still living in their home. They would also increase funding to hire more child protective services workers for children under state supervision.

This session will also consider increasing funding to the Oregon State Patrol and hiring back troopers.

The legislature would also examine options for developing sufficient water supplies for rural communities in Oregon.

Galizio, who is on the Interim Consumer Protection Committee said it is imperative that legislators do something about homeowner protection to assist those hurt by the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

'We are going to be looking at one element of the sub-prime mortgages. Specifically the entities that come in (to Oregon) calling themselves rescue mortgage operations," Galizio said. "The protections for consumers (who use these entities) are almost nonexistent and there are stories of people being taken advantage of and this is something we have to stop.'

He said that the legislature will try to balance protecting consumers with strong enforcement -- and restrictions where they are necessary -- to ensure that people are not being taken advantage of.

But Galizio stressed that legislators don't want to harm the housing and mortgage industries.

"… The housing market and the mortgage market are important industries," Galizio said. "You don't want to be over zealous and do things that don't achieve a proper balance.'

He said that the committee would also look at restricting pre-payment penalties on a sub-prime mortgages and mull over rules to regulate unlicensed loan originators.

The experimental February session is something that Oregon legislators have been considering since the close of the 2007 session. The session will test voters' willingness to permanently change the Oregon Constitution to allow for an annual meeting of the legislature.

Current state laws require a majority vote of each chamber to call legislators back to Salem for an emergency session.

One legislator, Sen. Larry George, R-Sherwood, has said the emergency meeting is illegal. George sued the Oregon Legislature to prevent the meeting, claiming there was no reason to call such an emergency session, but, so far, George hasn't gathered much support for his quest. In fact, many members of his caucus have said they wanted the session to go forward so legislators could finish state business before this fall's election cycle begins with the state primaries in May.

Big Look Commission

Overall, Galizio said, Democrats hope to provide closer oversight of state agency operations and an ability to respond to emerging policy and budget issues.

Republican caucus press releases have said that Republican legislators agree with increasing funding to the Oregon State Police and giving protection to seniors in assisted living facilities, as well as expanding water resources for rural Oregon.

The Republicans also say they would like to restart the 'Big Look Commission," which had been considering issues in the state's land-use policy before the Democratic-controlled legislature de-funded the commission's operating budget.

Galizio said he believes the money for the Big Look Commission should be reinstated and that the commission should go back to work.

'I do think that restoring funding for the Big Look is something that we should be doing,' said Galizio.

When legislators de-funded the commission, some people said Democrats didn't want the commission's results to influence public opinion on Measure 49, which passed in the fall 2007 elections.

Galizio didn't have an explanation for the politics that may have been involved in the decision saying only that it was a busy 2007 session and a lot was accomplished.

'There were so many needs that we were attempting to meet in that session,' said Galizio. 'We increased higher education funding by (more than) 20 percent, we just did a lot. But from the get go I've always been supportive (of the Big Look Commission). We need a look at our land-use and planning system. And I think it is important to get it in this session.'

Recalled toys in Oregon

Another issue Galizio said the Consumer Protection Committee wants to address is the legality of recalling toys in Oregon.

'Nothing prevents an Oregon retail shop from selling recalled toys,' Galizio said. He referred to last year's recall of children's toys that contained lead paint.

"We want to make sure to protect any of the kids and their families," Galizio said. "We're not going to allow the resell of any recalled toys.'

He said his committee has noticed this issue come up in other states and that it is something Oregon needs to address.

Permanent annual sessions

As far as having an annual session, Galizio said he believes that voters want their legislators to take care of budget matters that might need adjustment.

'That we can, in a bipartisan way take care of things rather quickly and get out of there,' Galizio said.

He also believes it would be a good idea to go to annual sessions for the State Legislature.

Oregon's legislature is one of six in the United State that still meet only once every two years.

'It would be more efficient,' Galizio said of switching to an annual session. 'It would allow more cohesiveness and we could then focus on certain elements rather than project out for two years. It would be an efficient means by which we could take care of business.'

'I think I might be in the minority, but the complexity of the world (is) that the lobbyists are professionals and active year-round," Galizio added. "I think the best representation for the people would be if we met annually. And legislators need to be compensated so that we don't have just wealthy and retired people in the legislature. That's not representative. If we want a representative legislature we need to bump up the pay and make it more doable for younger people, so that we can reflect the population.'