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2016 Legislature mixed bag of success, frustration

Rep. Julie Parrish, Sen. Richard Devlin revisit chaotic 35-day session


By some measures, the 2016 Legislative short session was a success for Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn.She was able to push through a number of key measures to serve “micro level” community needs, as she puts it, like extending open enrollment at schools for three more years and referring to voters a bill to allocate lottery revenues toward veteran services.

But from a big picture perspective, Parrish came away greatly concerned about what she saw over the course of the 35-day session.Parrish

Devlin

“The session had a bit of a train wreck feel to it,” Parrish said. “Because we really crammed a lot into 35 days.”

Specifically, Parrish felt that several bills — particularly those addressing the much-discussed minimum wage hike and the “Coal to Clean” proposal to eliminate coal-produced electricity in Oregon — were far too complex and beyond the scope of what the 35-day session was designed for when it was created in 2010.

The minimum wage hike and “Coal to Clean” — Senate Bills 1532 and 1547, respectively — passed both the house and senate, and have since been signed by Gov. Kate Brown. As a result, the Portland metro area’s minimum wage will raise gradually up to $14.75 per hour by 2022, and the state is required to be coal-free by 2030.

“I was there when we had the very first short session,” Parrish said. “It did not look like this — there were not these big, audacious items.

“A lot of this was brand new. The coal bill was negotiated entirely outside of the legislature.”

Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin and West Linn,had a different view of the session. As Senate co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, Devlin’s primary focus for 2016 was on fulfilling citizens’ most basic needs.

“People could concentrate on the controversy,” he said. “I tend to concentrate on keeping services in place and assuring Oregonians who rely on services that they will be out there.

“From that perspective, we achieved what I hoped. ... We rebalanced the budgets fairly effectively, which is part of why annual sessions are a good idea.”

Devlin also disagreed with the notion that short sessions should focus primarily on budgetary matters.

“A reality is that the Ways and Means committee has 24 members, not 90,” Devlin said. “That committee is extremely busy during the regular long session ... in a (budget) rebalance, it’s not as busy.

“I don’t know what you would do with 90 members if all they did was budget rebalance.”

The fine print

Disagreements aside, Parrish and Devlin both came away pleased with some of their individual accomplishments in the short session.

Parrish, for her part, was a chief sponsor of 10 bills — several of which passed and moved on to the governor’s desk. She was particularly proud of House Joint Resolution 202, which proposed an amendment to the Oregon constitution which would require 1.5 percent of lottery revenues to be spent on veterans’ services. The measure will be referred to voters in the November general election.

“It’s not the percentage we wanted — just 1.5 — but it’s a start,” she said. “This investment is exciting, and the fact that voters get a chance (to weigh in). ... It would have probably passed with five percent.”

Parrish was also pleased with a bill that expanded open enrollment at schools for another three years. Open enrollment allows students to cross over into different school districts, so long as they receive written consent.

“I worked on it in 2011, and it’s great to see us get it expanded,” Parrish said. “We’ll try to come back in the subsequent year and nail down how to make it more permanent.”

Parrish and Devlin also crossed the aisle to work on gaining additional funding for a new automotive education course offered through World of Speed, Clackamas Community College and the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. The class gives students hands-on experience with the latest in automotive technology while providing dual high school and college credits.

Parrish and Devlin’s efforts resulted in a $95,000 allocation to the program, which will help it expand to a capacity of 120 students.

“Richard and I, when it comes to community things, we’re on the same page,” Parrish said. “I do appreciate that he jumped in with me, saw the need and we got that accomplished.”

Devlin, meanwhile, was pleased with more sizable investments made across the state: more than $4 million to Umpqua Community College to fund repairs from the 2015 shooting tragedy; $5 million toward kindergarten head start programs; $1.5 million for the forensics division of the Oregon State Police; and $700,000 to assist district attorneys in elder abuse cases.

Devlin was also a chief sponsor on eight bills, six of which were passed and moved to the governor’s desk.

“We had bills passed in a lot of different areas,” he said. “Some were not particularly controversial, but will be beneficial.”

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..