The Oregon Legislature wrapped up its 2007 session one day ahead of schedule this week, finishing their work on a host of bills with repercussions that will touch the lives of nearly every Oregonian, from the air they breathe to the taxes they pay.
Capitol watchers called it the most substantive session in years, as Democrats held the reins in both chambers and the governor's office for the first time in 16 years and punched through a progressive agenda.
Among the major accomplishments: A $6.24 billion budget for public schools, incentives and mandates on biofuels production, socking away hundreds of millions into a "rainy day fund," requiring recycling of water bottles and adding 100 new state troopers to the state's highways.
"We have started to weave back together the fabric of this state," said Rep. Mary Nolan, a Portland Democrat.
But Republicans had their wins too, managing to keep a lid on virtually all proposals to raise taxes, even a politically popular plan to boost the cigarette tax to cover the cost of providing health care to about 100,000 uninsured children.
It was the shortest session since 1995, ending one day ahead of the June 29 goal lawmakers had set for themselves back in January, and the first time in years that lawmakers had not worked into the wee hours to close the session. It adjourned well ahead of the 2005 session, which dragged on until Aug. 5 of that year as a divided Legislature fought over education funding and other issues.
Usually, Oregon's Legislature meets just once every two years. But this time, legislators are planning to return to Salem in February of 2008, for a monthlong session to tackle loose ends and unfinished budget business. Issues that could grab the spotlight then include transportation and immigration, lawmakers said Thursday.
Before then, though, voters will consider some of lawmakers' unfinished business in November, weighing in on two of the most contentious issues of the session: whether to raise the state's cigarette tax to provide health insurance for about 100,000 children, and whether to reform the state's private property compensation law.
Traditional Democratic allies did well this session, particularly unions and education advocates, who notched wins like the right to form a union when the majority of employees at a workplace sign an authorization card. Meanwhile, higher education advocates were thrilled about a new program to nearly double funding for tuition aid, and an increased budget for capitol construction needs on campus.
Republicans, for their part, have cried foul over what they called undue intrusions by government, on topics like regulating cell phone use by teenage drivers, and said the state had plenty of money in its $15.1 billion budget, without asking voters to approve new taxes.
And the gavels were barely banged down Thursday before jockeying over the 2008 election began. The Legislature's only Independent, Sen. Avel Gordly, announced that she was leaving to take a position in the Black Studies department at Portland State, while Republican Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, who was easily the most powerful woman in Oregon politics during her tenure as House Speaker, announced that she was stepping down.
State Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, well-known for her past battles with those in what she called the "old boy network" of Oregon politics, announced that she'll be a candidate for secretary of state in 2008.
Senate Democrats also met Thursday afternoon to appoint a successor to outgoing Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland; Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, was chosen to take over, meaning he'll be in charge of the caucus' campaign efforts, and with counting heads &
or votes &
during the February special session.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski said it had been a "landmark" session in many ways, and that he planned to spend much of the next five months lobbying Oregonians to pass the November ballot measures, on the cigarette tax increase and property compensation rule reforms.
Republicans, too, said they are already looking ahead to that fight.
"Our fight with the Democrats is not in the Capitol building," said Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, D-John Day. "It is in the streets, on matters like repealing Measure 37. We may be in the minority politically, but the majority of Oregonians are with us."
Oregon lawmakers adjourn for 2007