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The Legislative Report

State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, said she can’t remember a busier start to an Oregon Legislature session.

“I’ve never seen a session start like this,” she said. “This hard, this fast, this controversial.”

Following Gov. John Kitzhaber’s State of the State address in mid-January, there came the first presentation of the bills - all 1,200 of them. More are still on their way. These are the bills the legislators will spend the next months discussing and weighing.

Already the legislators have found “something to like or not like about all 1,200 of these bills,” said Johnson, who is serving as vice-chair for the Ways and Means Committee, tasked with presenting a state budget.

Three of the core issues on the table this session deal with the Public Employee Retirement System rate increases and Kitzhaber’s proposed plans for public safety and education funding, Johnson said.

The governor has proposed a change to sentencing laws to reclassify some state prisoners as “lower risk,” making them eligible for early release. The governor hopes to free up money through this, and other actions, for the Oregon’s public education system. Not everyone is on board with the plan, however, including Johnson and Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson. They said the plan puts too much strain on local jails and corrections facilities and could release offenders convicted of serious and violent crimes.

Meanwhile, Oregon cities and counties are gearing up for huge jump in PERS rates and only see further increases down the road. Kitzhaber has proposed a massive reform to the system, limiting the annual cost of living adjustments for retirees and saving some $810 million every two years. But it is up for legal debate whether or not the cost of living adjustments can be altered.

Another issue is the territorial sea plan for the Oregon coast, which provides a set of policies and maps governing the allocation of portions of the state’s offshore seas and seabeds for wave energy development. Johnson said she isn’t happy with how the state handled the final plans.

“They made a mockery of the public involvement,” she said.

Johnson said there will also be a “huge number” of natural resource bills on the table.

Representative Brad Witt, D- Clatskanie, highlighted a number of agriculture and natural resource issues he is juggling as a member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

“Underpinning all of these issues is how we manage our water resources,” he said in a Feb. 11 newsletter. “Both the use and maintenance of Oregon’s water is vital in all aspects of our lives, from what comes out of the tap to what runs into our factories and fields.”