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In a written statement to members of the Senate Rules Committee and to legislative leadership--before Senate action on its resolution and bill to move to annual sessions, I argued (unpersuasively) that January of odd-numbered years is the worst time to start a legislative session, since it's on the heels of the General Election, just past the holidays, and there's relatively little that can or does get done in the first 90 days anyway as, typically, new legislators and new legislative committees learn the ropes and get up to speed. (This is relatively less true for the State Senate, which has experienced less turn-over in membership and leadership recently than the House. But bicameralism means that neither legislative chamber can act alone, so the result's the same.)
As an old-timer who's worked around the Capitol since the mid-70s and who lobbied there for over 20 years (until mid-2008), I've watched the pattern of Oregon's regular sessions time and again. I'm convinced that just capping the length of session won't work because the work that needs to be done always occurs at the end of the session, not at the beginning; and a safety valve is always necessary to extend the session beyond the cap. The legislature needs to both start and stop at the right times, and the current legislative calendar doesn't recognize that reality.
An additional and often unmentioned complication in calendaring legislative sessions is avoiding campaign seasons, when candidates' funds are raised and spent. It's critically important that these activities be separated--and squeezing a February session between hotly contested tax referenda and the March filing deadline is only proving to me how untimely a short February session in even-numbered years can be.
Ultimately, SJR 41 is probably better than the status quo. But any change in the legislative calendar would be, so that's a low bar. Annual sessions are not the ring the legislature should be reaching for. A better model for governing Oregon in the 21st century is, and calendaring legislative sessions properly will help.
posted 3 years, 3 months ago
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