In a few short weeks, Oregon's Legislature will convene for about a month, in what is known as a "short session."
Since statehood, Oregon's legislative assembly met in multi-month sessions every odd-numbered year. Those sessions were the period of time in which our elected state representatives and state senators met to consider, debate, pass, and enact legislation deemed to be in the broader and long-term interest of the people.
After the session ended ("sine die" -- or without a definite date for resumption), our "citizen legislators" returned to their communities, families, and jobs. The period between adjournment sine die and the date the next legislature convened was called "the interim." During the interim, hearings were held, work groups met, budgets and fiscal conditions were reviewed, and the budget was re-balanced. Everyone -- legislators, the Governor, special interests, and regular citizens -- had time to pause, reflect, work together, improve proposals, or prepare new ones, and then the process started all over again in January of the next odd-numbered year.
If conditions warranted (economic crisis, natural disaster, etc.), the Governor could call the Legislature back into a "special session," or the Legislature could call itself into special session, and this could happen at any time.
All this changed on November 2, 2010 by a 68%-32% vote of the people when they adopted Measure 71, also known as the Oregon Legislature Annual Sessions Amendment (an amendment to the Oregon Constitution). This measure, which was referred to the voters in 2009 by the Legislature, changed the political and legislative landscape of the state.
With the passage of Measure 71, Oregon joined many other states by adopting what is effectively an annual (v. biannual) legislative cycle. Odd-numbered years were intended to be "full" sessions, and were set to last for 160 days. Even-numbered years were intended to be "short" sessions, and were limited to 35 days.
While the Measure 71 obviously enjoyed strong public support, many (myself included) were supportive only if short sessions were limited to budget review and rebalancing, and truly emergency measures.
That is not what has happened.
If a long session is more like a marathon, today legislators and special interests treat short sessions as (in the words of the inimitable Monty Python) a "100 yard dash for people with no sense of direction." There are almost no limits on proposals that are considered, While in a long legislative session up to 3,000 or so pieces of legislation are introduced, usually in a short session each legislator is limited to one or two bills. This limit often does not apply to the legislative leadership or some key legislators.
Despite the numerical limit on bills, there are virtually no limits on the movement of bills. In a calmer climate, that would be tolerable, because legislators would work together to advance bills that enjoyed a consensus, and would limit bills that were controversial, or did not enjoy a clear majority of support from both parties.
Today, the standard for passing a bill in a short session is whether a majority of the ruling party has the votes to pass it. And there are no limits on subject matter. Anything -- whether it is bad policy or not -- can advance if the ruling party wants to pass it.
In tonight's third "warm up" podcast for Talking Leaders gives my perspective on this question and discusses why we need to make "short" sessions truly short. I hope you'll take a few minutes to listen to Talking Leaders, Intro 3
As always, if you have comments, criticisms, feedback, or have questions, please click on # Comments in the upper right section of this blog.
Mike Salsgiver, 63, is a space enthusiast, a tech geek, and is active in federal, state, and local government and political circles. Mike lives in Portland, OR and enjoys RV traveling.