While the gubernatorial transition has gone smoother than most people anticipated, the stress of losing a governor continues to send shockwaves throughout the Capitol. We are seeing a surge of activity on contentious legislation in committees as well as on the chamber floors, something normally expected in the latter months of session, not the opening weeks.
Both chambers have now passed three controversial “unfinished business” proposals: voter registration, low carbon fuel standard and class action lawsuits. The decision to move forward on these as first orders of business has intensified divisions between the Republican and Democratic parties, and runs the risk of polluting other unrelated policy discussions. The minority caucuses in both chambers have not been timid about making such statements.
Late last week, Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) called for the legislature to pass a bipartisan budget for the state’s public education system as soon as possible. This is noteworthy because it is typically the Republicans who call for the education budget to be passed early in the session. Democrats have historically opposed that request. Typically, passage of the public education budget would mark the final step in the budget writing process and occur late in the session.
One of the most controversial issues each session is the passage of the provider tax, the primary funding mechanism for the public health care system for the state. Usually, this measure begins to take shape towards the end of session and draws the attention of all the players in the health care industry as the final Oregon Health Authority and Department of Human Services budgets are completed. Today, the Joint Ways & Means Committee approved a negotiated compromise on the provider tax and submitted the legislation to the chamber floors for approval.
Once the budgets are finalized, the floodgates will open and every controversial issue, from gun control and oil trains to corporate tax increases and biotech regulations, will become fair game.