The scramble to beat the first major deadline of the legislative session was in full force last week. The chamber of origin deadline of Tuesday, April 21, when bills must move out of their originating chamber, caused a scurry of committee hearings throughout the week as chairs asserted the power of their gavel to keep bills alive. Once the deadline comes to pass, bills remaining in the policy committees will be effectively dead barring intervention from leadership to place legislation on life support. While the stride of the building was at its highest velocity this week, there was far more drama than simply the looming deadline.
On Monday evening, the Senate Workforce and House Business and Labor committees held a joint hearing on 10 bills related to raising the minimum wage. Some proposals called for an increase from our current minimum wage of $9.25 to $10.75, while other proposals would raise the rate to $15 and another would remove the statewide preemption on minimum wage policy.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted on the controversial gun background checks legislation. Senate Republicans employed stall tactics to delay the vote by making procedural motions, slowing down the progress and making the majority caucus endure a long waiting period to approve the bill. After hours of heated debate, Senate Republicans had exhausted their pleas to stop the bill. Senate Democrats, sans Senator Betsy Johnson, voted in support and the bill passed 17-13.
As well, we are already seeing an influx of backroom deals in play. These activities do not appear to be on a solely partisan basis. Next year’s election season is already underway for some of the most powerful players in Oregon politics, many of whom are presumed candidates for higher or other offices. Politicians are positioning themselves to court the interest groups they will need to run their own campaigns and force potential opponents to vote on contentious legislation to drive opposition against them. This has become evident as the public employee unions and environmental groups drive a strong agenda in the legislature, giving them clear indications of which candidates are willing to stand behind them as their champions. Interestingly, this has led to considerably infighting within the political parties. Understanding the upcoming election will be unique, with all but one statewide position up for grabs—U.S. Sen. Merkley is the only statewide elected official that will not be up for re-election.