Capital Chatter: Two hours in the Oregon Senate
Oregon lawmakers are best friends, tenacious foes and bored bystanders — all within minutes. They deliver stirring speeches and mind-numbing monologues. They make Oregonians proud … and puzzled.
To show how the Legislature works, here is a look at Tuesday's floor session of the Oregon Senate. Times are approximate.
10:45 a.m.: The Senate is scheduled to convene as senators straggle in. An Oregon Capitol truism is that Legislative Time lags behind Pacific Time. Meetings often start late, although the 30-member Senate remains more punctual than the 60-member House.
Twenty-nine senators show up today. Roseburg Republican Jeff Kruse is listed each day as "Excused." He has been banished from the building over sexual harassment allegations and has resigned effective March 15. But tensions remain. Some Republican senators believe he was unfairly railroaded out of the Legislature. Others think he should have been ousted earlier, and they don't like his still receiving pay and legislative benefits.
10:48 a.m.: After the U.S. and Oregon flags are posted, Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, leads the Pledge of Allegiance. I know of only one lawmaker, a House member, who does not recite the Pledge each day.
10:49 a.m.: The Rev. Wendell Hendershott of Grace Lutheran Church in Corvallis delivers the invocation. He reads from the third chapter of Lamentations in the Old Testament, sings Psalm 67 and prays.
10:52 a.m.: Senators officially welcome guests, including international exchange students visiting the chamber. Senator Pro Tempore Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, remarks that she was an AFS exchange student in Greece. I'm reminded that legislators are real people.
Senate Republican Leader Jackie Winters of Salem moves that the Senate waive the constitutional requirement that legislation be read word-by-word during today's session. Democrats control both chambers, so Republicans' refusal to waive that requirement is one way to get the Democrats' attention. That has happened in both chambers this year.
With Kruse gone, Republicans are outnumbered 17-12.
10:59 a.m.: The Senate gets down to legislating. Senate Bill 1510 passes on a 21-8 vote. Democrat Betsy Johnson of Scappoose joins seven Republicans in opposition. Johnson is known for her independent thinking — voting her mind, not her party line.
Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, supports the bill but warns of rumors that the House may monkey with it, in which case he'll be a "no" vote when it returns to the Senate.
11:06 a.m.: Republican Leader Winters leads the Senate in praising the late Vera Katz, a staunch Democrat who was speaker of the Oregon House and later mayor of Portland. Winters recalls that Katz often ordered food from her restaurant, Jackie's Ribs, when House Democrats were holding a caucus.
In many ways, Salem remains a small town where people know each other, and residents run into their elected officials at the coffee shop, grocery store or yoga class.
Portland Democrats Lew Frederick and Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward, along with Johnson, also share their memories of Katz, who never drove a car.
On a 28-0 vote, the Senate commemorates Katz by passing House Concurrent Resolution 213, completing its unanimous passage through the Legislature.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, fondly recalls how Katz teamed with Eastern Oregon Republican Rep. Denny Jones on many issues. Even when they disagreed, Courtney says, they had each other's back.
That set an example for Courtney. He doesn't mention it, but he and Winters have a similar relationship.
Katz also worked with her Republican successor as House speaker, Larry Campbell, on key issues.
I internally reflect that such bipartisanship exists more often in the Senate these days than in the House.
11:15 a.m.: Bill Hansell, R-Athena, carries — that is, presents — a routine bill allowing retired teachers to keep PERS benefits while being re-employed to teach career and technical education classes. It passes 28-0.
A bill establishing a Small Business Rules Advisory Committee, to advise state agencies, passes on a similar vote. James Manning Jr., D-Eugene, carries the bill.
At one point, Courtney, Winters and Senate Democratic Leader Ginny Burdick of Portland huddle at the rostrum while the floor speeches continue.
Manning and Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, present a consensus bill that redefines "property service contractors." It is a technical fix aimed at the state Bureau of Labor and Industries. The bill also passes unanimously by the senators present.
Linthicum carries a bill that allows burials in defunct cemeteries if the deceased has already purchased a plot. Several cemeteries have closed in his sprawling Senate district, which covers Klamath, Crook and parts of Deschutes, Jackson and lake counties.
Johnson asks about a reverse situation. A constituent's father is buried in one of those now-unlicensed cemeteries and wants to have him disinterred so he can be reburied with his wife; however, the bill does not address that issue.
The bill passes unanimously, as it did in the House.
11:30 a.m.: The Senate takes up a controversial bill establishing a committee to recommend changes to Oregon's advance directive. That is the state form that residents use to indicate their preferences for end-of-life medical care.
The bill ultimately will pass on a party-line vote, 17-12, and go to Gov. Kate Brown for her action. First comes 40 minutes of Senate debate.
The bill's carrier, Eugene Democrat Floyd Prozanski, promises to go through the bill in detail.
For about 17 minutes to open the debate and an additional six minutes at the end.
House Bill 4135 largely is a repeat of Senate Bill 494, which passed the Senate last year but disappeared in the House. Prozanski wants to correct misconceptions. He stresses the bill does not allow withholding of food or water from an incapacitated individual.
Like many legislators, Prozanski uses his floor time to make remarks for the historical legislative record "so the record is straight."
Most senators are listening, although a few have left the floor to do other things during a lengthy debate that will change no one's minds.
The Senate generally is more attentive than the House. One reason is that lobbyists may not contact senators during floor sessions. In the House, lobbyists may send notes to representatives, asking to meet with them outside the chamber.
Whether during floor sessions or public hearings, it drives me crazy when lawmakers are on their computers or smartphones, reading or typing. Newer lawmakers seem particularly afflicted with the inability to listen patiently.
The irony on the advance directive bill is that senators agree the current form is almost incomprehensible. Supporter Steiner-Hayward, a physician, and opponent lawyer Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, make that point.
The Republicans' proposed changes sound reasonable. They say they ran out of time for getting their ideas into the bill. Left unsaid is the broader context and backstory.
Also speaking against the bill, before or after the vote, are Linthicum, Boquist and Alan DeBoer, R-Ashland. After votes are tallied, senators sometimes offer "vote explanations" for the record, including Boquist's warning that the bill as passed is "full employment for lawyers."
12:12 p.m.: Kathleen Taylor, D-Milwaukie, carries the day's final bill. House Bill 4144 is one of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown's priorities. It eases the path for experienced tradespeople to start their own contracting businesses and to get state loans for developing affordable housing outside the Willamette Valley.
Canby Republican Alan Olsen, a contractor, raises concerns about the bill, including its geographical discrimination.
The bill passes 21-8, with Democrat Riley joining seven Republicans in voting no.
12:38 p.m.: The Senate adjourns. Some senators already have left the chamber. Few senators have given speeches, yet the session has lasted twice as long as expected. People are hungry.
Never legislate on an empty stomach.
Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com. You can watch videos from Tuesday's Oregon Senate floor session on his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/DickHughes.