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Capital Chatter: It's deadly quiet in Salem

There will be at least three major blowups before the legislative session ends in June.

It's deadly quiet for a legislative session. Things are moving quickly. Lawmakers are playing nicely. There will be at least three major blowups before the legislative session ends in June. I don't want to be here. It's good to be back.

Those were among the contrasting perceptions from legislators, lobbyists and hangers-on as the 80th Legislative Assembly convened this week in the Oregon State Capitol.

Few major bills were discussed, although the Senate Workforce Committee immediately plunged into a significant proposal that would expand anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws for private employers. One question being debated by lawmakers was how high up the food chain to hold corporate executives accountable.

Democrats and Republicans on the new Senate Campaign Finance Committee agreed on the need for reforms but didn't get down to details.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, who is a Senate co-chair of the Joint Ways & Means Committee, said lawmakers were serious about controlling expenses. That could include merging, consolidating or eliminating state agencies, commissions and boards, although she declined to say which ones might be under consideration.

Getting schooled on PERS: Steiner Hayward affirmed a truth about the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System. PERS' unfunded actuarial liability will eat up a big chunk of any increased education spending dedicated to reducing class sizes or lengthening the school year.

After the state Department of Education announced a 2-percentage point improvement in high school graduation rates, the Oregon Education Association issued a press release headlined, "Graduation rates improve, more funding needed to make more progress."

A selfish vote against Courtney: Legislative leaders met with Oregon journalists on Friday, and Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. of Grants Pass was asked why he voted against the re-election of Salem Democrat Peter Courtney as Senate president. The Legislature had met Jan. 14 for organizational sessions and the inauguration of Gov. Kate Brown.

"It was out of selfishness," Baertschiger said, explaining that Courtney had championed mining restrictions and other legislation that severely hurt his Southern Oregon constituents. "The last thing I need is on the front page of our paper [is] 'Baertschiger votes for Courtney.'"

Instead, the Grants Pass newspaper ran a front-page photo of Baertschiger escorting Democrat Brown in the House chamber for her swearing in.

"This is what happens when one gets selfish," Baertschiger said. "It doesn't always work."

What to call legislators: Protocol during House and Senate floor sessions calls for legislators to address each other by district number or other designation instead of their names.

The 2019 Member Reference Card for the House includes these monikers:

Greg Barreto, R-Cove, is from the "Ranching and Rodeo District"

Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, "Albany, Millersburg, Tangent and the Acres of Farmland in Between"

Rick Lewis, R-Silverton, "Oregon's Christmas Tree District"

Tiffiny Mitchell, D-Cannon Beach, "The Jewel of Oregon"

Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, "Where the Suburbs Meet the Farmland"

Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, "The Great City of Gresham: Land of Liberty and Justice for All"

Greg Smith, R-Heppner, "District 57: Land of Food and Shelter"

Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, "The Covered Bridge Capital"

Anna Williams, D-Hood River, "Mt. Hood to the Columbia Gorge, Sandy and the East Metro Area"

Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, House Democratic leader, "Portland's West Side"

Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, House Republican leader, "Grants Pass"

Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, "The River District"

Homelessness in the capital: Last week the city of Salem rousted about 30 people living under the Marion Street Bridge after posting notices a week earlier.

An estimated 16 dump-truck loads of garage were hauled away. Food distribution by churches and nonprofits will shift to the nearby parking lot of ARCHES, which provides services for homeless people.

Not-so-stressed capital: Salem is the 239th most stressed-out city in America, according to a report from Zippia. Miami is No. 1 for being most stressed.

Other Oregon cities and their rankings are Gresham, 93; Portland, 139; Hillsboro, 195; and Eugene, 242.

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