Oregons 2013 legislative session began Feb. 4

A large, yellow school bus sat immediately outside the front steps of the Oregon State Capitol building in Salem on the morning of Thursday, Feb. 7, a common sight during legislative sessions.

On the other side of the revolving front doors, a group of students gathered in the rotunda as part of a field trip. Within minutes, they were treated to the sight of Gov. John Kitzhaber and a warm greeting from the state’s top elected official.

The 2013 regular session had begun just a few days prior, but the halls were largely empty. Many committee meetings were scheduled for later in the afternoon, leaving legislators to tend to other duties in the meantime.

It was a welcome bit of respite for Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, whose District 20 includes Estacada, Eagle Creek and a portion of Boring.

Between meetings, Olsen characterized the start of the session with a single word: busy.

On the first day of the session, Monday, Feb. 4, Olsen was already welcomed by a half-dozen bills awaiting his vote in the Senate and a slew of hot-button issues to contend with.

The item at the top of Olsen’s agenda is job creation.

“If we can get folks back to work, it benefits the state, because it will have more money to do more things,” he said.

Education is also important to Olsen, who has volunteered to be among those working on reforms to the state’s Public Employees Retirement System.

“It has to be done fairly in a way that protects the recipients and the system’s overall financial stability,” Olsen said.

Another key topic is prison reform. Voters have consistently approved mandatory minimum sentencing measures, and Olsen said crime has gone down as a result. But the cost of running the state’s prisons continues to escalate, and he said labor is a contributing factor and other states pay less for their systems.

Olsen serves as vice-chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which meets on Mondays and Wednesdays. He also is a member of that chamber’s Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee, which meets on Tuesdays.

Over on the House side, Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, described the first week of the session as going from zero to 60 miles per hour “in a blink.”

“It promises to be a fast session,” Kennemer said.

Kennemer represents District 39, which inludes Estacada, Eagle Creek and a portion of Boring.

Legislators were formally sworn in on Jan. 14, but the three weeks between that and the start of the session gave legislative counsel time to draft the hundreds of bills that will be debated between now and the session’s anticipated July adjournment.

Although Kennemer had served in the Senate from 1987 to 1996, his return to the Legislature in 2009 came as Republicans were in the super-minority. That changed after the 2010 elections, which produced an historic 30-30 split between both parties for the 2011 session.

Oregon received national recognition for its bi-partisan governing model that year, in which Rep. Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, were co-speakers and committees were co-chaired by Republicans and Democrats, who took turns holding the gavels.

Kennemer is hoping that bi-partisanship will again prevail and has introduced legislation requiring a two-thirds majority to pass bills. But he also has the realistic outlook that comes with being a veteran of partisan politics and all it entails.

“This is a system that’s based on numbers and power,” he said.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Kennemer has a packed schedule. He’s vice-chair of the House Business and Labor Committee, which meets at 8:30 a.m. on those days. Then it’s off to caucus meetings at 10 a.m. and floor sessions at 11 a.m. The House Health Care Committee, of which Kennemer is a member, meets at 1 p.m., and the Rules Committee that he sits on meets at 3 p.m.

All of that adds up to a whole lot of obligations for Kennemer and demands for his time, but he’s fully aware that it’s all part of the job.

“I’m booked up to my eyeballs just in committees,” he said.

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