Cramming big pieces of legislation into a short session does all parties a disservice


For well over a century, the Oregon Legislature met on an every-other-year or bi-annual basis. Pick any odd year in the past 120 years, 1899, 1939, 1981, 2003 and you will find an occurrence of the assembly of the Oregon Legislature.

Budgets and laws were passed, and state business was conducted for the next two years. The pro of this approach was that business would get conducted at one time. The sessions were long and there was plenty of time for public analysis — not just public comment. The con to this approach was that you would need to wait two years to make minor fixes to legislation.

In 2010, Ballot Measure 71 changed all of this. It kept the bi-annual legislative session, what is commonly referred to as the long session and capped it at 160 days. These will continue to occur in odd-numbered years. This ballot measure also established what is referred to as a short session, a 35-day legislative session to be conducted in even-numbered years. The purpose of this short legislative session is to address budget issues and urgent matters that cannot wait for the long session, or to clean up minor issues if you will.

This, of course, is what was "supposed" to occur in theory. In practice, we are seeing attempts to cram huge, impactful pieces of legislation through in the short session. This, in part, is because of two simple things. One, we all have a different definition of "urgent". If you are very passionate about an issue such as funding for community college (which should have been restored in this session might I add, and feel free to visit the Oregon Community College Association website ( for more information on why I am passionate about this) you will say it is an urgent matter and should be addressed in the short session (as I and the East Metro Economic Alliance have done in the case of funding for community colleges).

The second is that most things have a budgetary impact which then makes it fair play for the session. An example of this would be if I supported, for example, restoring funding for community colleges, that funding would come from the state budget thus making this a budgetary issue and one to be raised in the short session. Any matter can be addressed in the short session although that was not its intended purpose.

A piece of huge legislation was attempted this past short session. House Bill 4001 and Senate Bill 1407 known by proponents as the "clean energy bills" and by most business and industry as "cap and trade" passed both of their originating committees but failed to move further. Either would have established a cap and trade program directed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to be enacted in 2021. These are examples of legislation that should not have even been introduced in the short session. Thirty-five days is far too short of a time period to for legislation of this magnitude to be introduce, debated, amended and analyzed. This is not enough time for all those who may be impacted to digest the ramifications of such legislation. I am not alone in this. Legislators, both Republican and Democrat, feel the same way.

House Minority Leader Mike McLane was quoted in the article "Oregon Legislature jammed with bills in short session," written by Gary Warner, "Abuse of this short session has brought us to the point of questioning how we operate. The session has turned into a propaganda session and a campaign session."

Hillary Borrud wrote an article published Jan. 29, days before the 2018 legislative session was set to commence, entitled "Oregon Senate Democrats say 2018 session is too short to pass cap and trade plan." Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick is quoted as saying, "It's an issue that needs to be dealt with. My personal opinion is we will most likely not be able to get over the finish line in 35 days. But we need to continue working on it."

Everyone know legislation of this magnitude was not intended to be addressed in the short session. Senate President Peter Courtney is quoted saying "I don't want to copy some other state," "People are working their tail off on it. But doggone it, let's do this thing right" in reference to cap and trade or, as he calls it, cap and grow.

If it is about getting it right than let's do so. Let's get it right by introducing legislation of this magnitude in long sessions and not attempt to cram them in during short sessions especially when we know they are not likely to pass.

Jarvez Hall is the Executive Director of the East Metro Economic Alliance and an Instructor of Social Entrepreneurship at Warner Pacific University. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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