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Capital Chatter: Gun bill coming to Legislature

Brown following through on her pledge to close the so-called 'Boyfriend Loophole.'

Gov. Kate Brown plans to take a small step — politically, at least — on gun regulations during the 2018 Legislature.

She will follow through on her pledge to close the so-called "Boyfriend Loophole." Her bill will clarify that persons convicted of misdemeanor stalking or domestic violence are barred from purchasing guns.

Brown's legislation also will require that law enforcement be notified when a prohibited person attempts a gun purchase. That will have the effect of codifying her 2016 executive order into law.

But at this point, Brown will not try again to close the "Charleston Loophole," which she promised to do after last fall's horrific massacre in Las Vegas. The so-called loophole allows someone to purchase a gun if his or her background check has not been completed within three business days. That provision enabled Dylann Roof to obtain the handgun he used to kill nine people at a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

A bill to close the Charleston Loophole stalled in the 2017 Legislature because of a technical glitch, and Senate President Peter Courtney helped keep the proposal from proceeding. Courtney shuns divisive bills that could potentially cause a legislative meltdown.

Under current Oregon law, individuals may be prohibited from buying guns if they have a felony conviction anywhere in the U.S., are being sought on a felony warrant, are on pre-trial release on a felony warrant, have been convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity in the last four years on certain misdemeanors, or have been found by a court to be mentally defective.

Federal law also bars gun purchases by anyone who illegally uses or is addicted to a controlled substance, including marijuana; received a dishonorable discharge from the armed forces; has renounced U.S. citizenship; or is an unlawful alien.

• The federal tax changes and you: Based on what state economists and revenue officials told legislators during a lengthy hearing this week, here's what we know about the potential impact of the federal income tax reforms:

• The Oregon Department of Revenue faces a ton of work to accommodate the federal changes, even if the 2018 Legislature doesn't toy with those changes.

• Fewer Oregonians will itemize their deductions on their federal tax returns, but they might continue itemizing for their state returns.

• Oregon tax collections could increase.

• Or they might decrease.

• More revenue might cause the income tax "kicker" to kick.

• Or not.

Much of the uncertainty involves international taxation, and whether the federal reforms encourage corporations to return trillions of dollars to the U.S. and pay their federal and state taxes here.

• What would Obama do? Camaraderie can be bipartisan even when the issue has partisan tones.

Liberal Democrat Rob Nosse of Portland and moderate/conservative Republican Knute Buehler of Bend enjoyed needling each other during a House revenue committee hearing on the tax changes. Nosse got up from his seat several times to walk over and whisper in Buehler's ear, leading to chuckles.

Buehler noted that even President Barack Obama favored lowering the corporate income tax rate.

• So you had a press conference and … Several print and television journalists turned out for Monday's press conference with Oregon's first Kid Governor, Dom Peters of Gervais.

On Thursday, the dueling sides on the Jordan Cove LNG project held separate press conferences in the Capitol pressroom. I was the only journalist there.

• As for Cylvia Hayes … Listening to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission discuss the alleged ethics violations of Cylvia Hayes, I wondered whether the commission was equipped to pursue high-level investigations, such as against a governor and first lady.

That is not a slight against the commissioners or their staff. The commissioners came into last Friday's meeting having thoroughly dissected and digested the staff's investigative report about Hayes.

But it's a huge jump from their typical small-fry cases to the allegations against Gov. John Kitzhaber and Hayes, his fiancée who served as first lady.

In retrospect, that seems obvious from the fact that the commission staff initially negotiated a $1,000 fine with Kitzhaber in return for his admitting to four ethics violations. Based on the matrix used by the commission staff, that was a higher-than-normal fine for a first offender. But the settlement did not sit well with commissioners, who in November refused to approve it. On Friday, they reiterated a governor should be held to a much higher standard than the run-of-the mill cases that typically come before the commission.

It was striking to see agency staff so out-of-tune with the thoughts of the governing commission.

• Life is more than a matrix: The ethics commission uses a matrix to rank a person's ethics violation and subsequent penalty. Factors include prior violations, aggregate financial benefit to the person from not following ethics laws, criminal convictions, restitution, cooperation to resolve the matter, whether the person self-reported the violation, and whether the person had sought and/or followed ethics advice prior to committing the violation.

The inherent problem with a matrix is that it tries to reduce the subjective to an objective scale. But life and ethics are more complicated than that.

• Email is not a panacea: A number of the supposed violations handled by the commission involve miscommunication, misunderstandings about when to file reports, and faulty email addresses. Many potential violators are small-town public officials, some of whom don't use email or computers.

As a result, what I would consider minor violations consume an inordinate amount of the staff and commission time. I wonder whether that is the best use of public time and resources.

In some cases, the commission issues token fines that are probably smaller than the cost of collecting and processing them. Does assessing token fines, or sending "letters of education," just irritate the public officials or lobbyists instead of encouraging compliance?

Is there a way for the state to do a blitz of annual and quarterly reminders for lobbyists and public officials on upcoming filing deadlines for filing required ethics reports?

• Commission adamant about Hayes: As for the Cylvia Hayes case, the investigative report suggests a stunning failure to identify and rectify potential conflicts of interest between her operating a private environmental consulting business and her public role as the first lady and a policy adviser to the governor.

The commission approved 22 of 23 preliminary finds of ethics violations.

• New legislator headed to Capitol: The Marion County Board of Commissioners will interview three nominees on Jan. 24 to replace Jodi Hack of Salem in House District 19. The district includes parts of Salem, Turner and Aumsville.

Because Hack is a Republican, her successor must be. The three nominees from county Republicans are Denyc Boles, who served as an appointed legislator in 2014; Satyanarayana Chandragiri; and Michael Hunter.

The public interviews start at 9 a.m. at Courthouse Square in downtown Salem. They will be broadcast on CCTV Channel 21 and streamed on Marion County's social networks. Commissioners are expected to appoint the new representative after the panel interviews.

Hack left the Legislature to become CEO of the Oregon Home Builders Association. In a letter to constituents, she wrote, "I believe the association has a unique opportunity in front of them to become 'Change Leaders' in how our state views all housing issues. This includes increasing housing production in all price ranges, while at the same time taking meaningful steps to increase housing affordability and reducing homelessness."

She succeeds Jon Chandler, who was among the most-knowledgeable and well-liked lobbyists in the Oregon Capitol.

• What will happen next month? The 2018 Legislature convenes Feb. 5 for its 35-day session. The opening day will be more formal than for previous short sessions, with Gov. Brown delivering her State of the State speech to the Legislature. Expect her to stress workforce development in her speech.

On Friday, Jan. 19, I'll be on a lunchtime panel at the Portland City Club to discuss the upcoming legislative session. People may purchase tickets to attend or watch the discussion online.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Hughesisms.com/Facebook, YouTube.com/c/DickHughes or @DickHughes on Twitter.