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Capital Chatter: Session will be a doozy

The question hanging over the State Capitol is whether Republican senators show up, and for how much of the session.

Get ready for a doozy of an Oregon Legislature.

The 2020 "short" session begins Monday and could last the full 35 days. Or not.

The question hanging over the State Capitol is whether Republican legislators — specifically, GOP senators — show up, and for how much of the session. One potential scenario is that the carbon cap and trade legislation, which largely spurred the Republican senators' walkout last year, will be shuffled off to the Ways & Means Committee until work is completed on the main budget fixes and other issues. Ways & Means, like the Rules and Revenue committees, is exempt from the strict deadlines placed on other committees.

The main carbon legislation is Senate Bill 1530 sponsored by Democratic Sens. Arnie Roblan, Coos Bay; Michael Dembrow, Portland; Lee Beyer, Springfield; and Kathleen Taylor, Milwaukie. The House has its own version, HB 4159, as a backup. Its sponsors, all Democrats, are Tina Kotek; Karin Power, Milwaukie; and Pam Marsh, Ashland.

You'll notice that both Taylor and Power are from the Portland suburb of Milwaukie. Last week, that city council became the first in Oregon to declare a climate emergency. Milwaukie's mayor, Mark Gamba, also is opposing 5th Congressional District Rep. Kurt Schrader in the Democratic primary election in May.

The state Senate and House are both scheduled to convene for floor sessions at 8:30 a.m. Monday. I'll be looking for what the presiding officers — Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland – say in their opening remarks and whether any legislators give heated remonstrances about the sessions.

But will Courtney, who been hospitalized with severe hip issues, be well enough to attend on Monday? As of Thursday afternoon, he had not responded to my inquiries.

As for remonstrances, they are time-limited opportunities for legislators to spout whatever is on their mind in front of their colleagues and the public. The Oregon Senate Protocol & Decorum handbook states: "Remonstrances have a two-minute time limit (no yields). A member may only speak one time per floor session under Remonstrances. Under this order of business, a member may voice objections, observations, or 'protests.' The motives or integrity of another member of the Senate or House may not be impugned."

The reference to "no yields" means other members cannot yield their time to the person speaking so he or she can talk longer. The Senate has its remonstrances near the start of the floor session. In the House, they're at the end.

The short session typically moves so quickly that each day is like a week in the regular long session. Legislators, staff members, lobbyists, state executives and others already are emailing one another at all hours. One lobbyist posted on Facebook that a state agency director emailed him at 11:32 p.m. Wednesday and he responded at 11:36 p.m. A lawyer in Legislative Counsel, which drafts the bills, emailed him at 1:10 a.m. Thursday and he replied at 2:56 a.m. "I think the short legislative session (starting Monday) is screwing with the work-life balance for a lot of people," he concluded.

No kidding.

Democrats control the Legislature with supermajorities in each chamber. But that does not mean their issues are settled. For example, there is division among activists on the climate and gun control proposals, which some don't think go far enough.

As for Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, so far she has skipped delivering a State of the State address this year. Instead, she has given speeches to the city clubs in Portland, Eugene and Bend. In the speeches, which were similar, she extolled her accomplishments as governor and listed her legislative priorities. The carbon bill is her main push. She also is asking for $200 million a year for wildfire prevention, mitigation and suppression.

These positions were not new and, unlike a State of the State, her "Legislative Table Set" speeches were not widely covered by the media. If you want to read them, they have now been posted on her office website.

Meanwhile, the governor also has proposed that the Legislature ask voters to change the ban on new real estate taxes in the Oregon Constitution. Her House Joint Resolution 203 would raise money for affordable housing through a state tax imposed when property changes hands. Brown's introduction of such a contentious measure is baffling, given the furor that already surrounds the climate legislation she supports.

Legislators unveil big and small plans: Lawmakers have been issuing newsletters this week to highlight what they want to happen, or not, during the 2020 session. Rep. Rick Lewis, R-Silverton, provided one of the clearest explanations of how a short session operates. It is worth checking out.

OLIS – the Oregon Legislative Information System – is the go-to website to contact legislators, follow committees and floor sessions, and track individual bills and committees. You can sign up for alerts with committee agendas and the status of bills.

Public hearings start Monday. So do press conferences. The Senate Democrats will have a media briefing on their legislative agenda. On Tuesday, Billy J. Williams, the U.S. attorney for Oregon; Renn Cannon, FBI special agent in charge for Oregon; and Secretary of State Bev Clarno will hold a press conference about election security.

An emergency with teeth and gums: Among the hearings Monday is one on House Bill 4127 in the House Education Committee. The bill requires school districts to provide instruction in oral health as part of their K-12 health curriculum.

On Thursday, a coalition of supporters presented research that supports the proposal, including the fact that children of color have less access to preventive dental services and higher rates of cavities.

"Access to preventive oral health services should not depend on a child's income, ZIP code or race. This data analysis from OHSU highlights the disparities Oregon children face in oral health access and outcomes," said Melissa Freeman, director of strategic projects at Oregon Community Foundation, which commissioned the research. "We hope this report will help move our legislators to action."

The chief sponsors are Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg, who is a dentist; Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland; and Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham. In a show of bipartisanship, 23 other legislators have signed on.

The legislation includes an emergency clause, so it would take effect immediately upon passage and signing by the governor – a practice that some of those legislators have railed against.

And lastly: The newest member of the Oregon Legislature was sworn into office on Thursday. Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, takes over from Lynn Findley in serving House District 60. Findley, R-Vale, is now a state senator.

Owens will add his rural voice to the House Revenue and Water committees.

As Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, noted in emails to journalists this week, the real divide is not Democrats vs. Republicans but urban vs. rural: "It is a culture divide. We shall see shortly one way or another."

I'm curious how many legislators have been to Crane.

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.