Legislature — Bills flood the Senate and House floors hoping to pass; controversial legislation begins seeing closure in both chambers

With only a few days remaining in the 2014 legislative session, there’s a final push to move bills out of committee and get as many passed in both houses before they’re considered dead and held over until next year.

“I think we’ve been in the eye of the storm,” said state Rep. Kim Thatcher. “I think there’s going to be things that come out that are going to be completely unexpected or trying to position people in a negative light considering there’s a May primary coming up. The games are afoot. It’ll be really hard to keep up with.”

There have been a few bills stirring up controversy in Salem, with only a handful seeing a result thus far. House Bill 4005 didn’t make headlines until state Sen. Larry George added an unrelated amendment trying to save Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum from paying more than $1 million in back taxes. The amendment came about after House Bill 4106, proposed by Rep. Jim Weidner, died in the House Committee on Revenue. It was adamantly supported by the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners, but it appears the support was not enough as HB 4005 passed without the amendment. George voted against the bill, providing an explanation before the Senate moved on to the next matter Feb. 28.

“The fact is that we need to address the tax code and find out whether or not our tax code is a draw for businesses. And if we believe our tax code is not a draw for businesses and that what we need to do is create special tax districts so that they can get out of our normal process, then colleagues, we need to have tax reform in the state of Oregon,” George said. “And we should be creating special loopholes for certain people who meet certain criteria. We should be doing broad-based tax rate deduction and that’s why I voted no.”

Senate Bill 1531, which specifies that city and county governments can ban medical marijuana facilities, has sparked heated debate in both chambers. The bill was originally slated for a final vote in the House Feb. 28, but when there were not enough representatives in the chamber during roll call, it was held over until Monday.

Upon final vote, Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton) asked that the bill be held over until Tuesday to allow for further discussion. The House was split on the motion, many citing the urgency of the bill as the Oregon Health Authority began accepting applications for dispensaries Monday.

When questioned about his reasoning for asking for a delay, Read simply stated that there’s some ongoing discussion, and he felt there would be a benefit to allowing that discussion to continue.

“Because of the timing of this bill and the motion, we have some serious concerns with this,” said Rep. Andy Olson (R-Albany), a sponsor of the bill. “(Citing an analysis by Legislative Counsel), this effectively means if legislation does not pass, the inevitable court case that results from challenges on local government’s bans on medical marijuana dispensaries could result in a significant part of medical marijuana program being struck down as a conclusion. In essence, because of the timeliness, if we do not move on the issue today, we’re running out of time.”

Despite verbal objections, the motion passed with 31 yes votes to 27 nay votes Tuesday, when the bill was brought before the House again. Read called another motion to move the bill to the House Committee on Rules, despite explaining Monday that he thought the 24 extra hours for discussion would allow for a Tuesday vote.

Similar objections were discussed, with the same Representatives voicing their support. With 30 yes to 28 no, the bill was moved to the committee.

After being reviewed and presented again today in front of the House, the bill passed and is now awaiting amendment approval in the Senate.

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