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Leaders Trade Letters
That scraping noise you hear is teeth grinding

In a sign that the legislative session is starting to unravel, House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) and House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) have traded letters regarding how they see the rest of the 2021 Legislative Session proceeding.

In her letter, Speaker Kotek said:

As we navigate the daily challenges of operating the 2021 legislative session during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been committed to four top priorities: safety, transparency, strong public participation, and the completion of the people’s work.

So far, we have been able to create a safe workplace while ensuring transparency and strong public participation. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been perfect. We have had many conversations about how we can improve committee procedures for both legislators and the public. I value all constructive feedback and will continue to do everything I can to make this session operate as smoothly as possible.

House members have been hard at work, and our committees are sending out many good bills for the chamber to consider. I am asking for your help to ensure we can meet those four priorities as we move into the next phase of our legislative work.

Next week, we are scheduled for 19 hours on the House floor. Several legislators who are not yet eligible for a vaccine have expressed concerns that this additional time on the floor will create unnecessary and additional risks of spreading COVID-19 among staff, legislators, and our families. The Oregon Health Authority has confirmed that decreasing the amount of time we spend together in close proximity reduces the risk of transmission. Therefore, I am requesting your assistance in the following actions to ensure our floor sessions are as safe and efficient as possible:

We all have a responsibility to keep each other safe. Until the county risk levels broadly reach the Lower Risk category and more members, staff and our family members are vaccinated, we have to work together to do the people’s work safely.

The impasse can be summarized as the party in power is upset because they have been unable to move a large agenda at a robust speed. Representative Drazan replied with this letter

I have received your letter detailing your approach to this unprecedented legislative session. I share your concern for maintaining public health, and would add to that a rising concern for the need to come together to heal and recover as a state and nation.

The Oregon Legislature is not alone in navigating our obligation to fulfill the people’s work while minimizing health risks. In fact, several states have implemented measures that reflect innovative management of the legislative process, focusing not only on masks and social distancing, but recognizing the inherent inadequacy of the policymaking process itself under these circumstances. Below are a sampling of states that have announced and adopted changes to their legislative approach:

Here in Oregon, the House is running a crushing number of committees and pushing controversial legislation which impacts and reshapes our energy markets, labor practices, business mandates, criminal penalties, public safety, land use laws, housing policies, tax and spending policy, constitutional rights and quality of life. These concepts, many of which are being drafted on the fly and pushed to work sessions, are moving through committees despite substantial opposition and without a willingness to compromise or work to build bipartisan support.

Here are a few examples of the points of concern from this virtual session:

This is not authentic engagement. This is closed door, offline, predetermined outcomes, not to be confused with meaningful bipartisanship in a public process.

As long as the building is closed to the public and deeply controversial legislation continues to be fast-tracked in committees, we will continue to depend on the Constitution, to remind the supermajority we should not operate like it’s business as usual while the public is shut out.

I understand from your letter you recognize that your recently proposed work schedule does not support public health. I agree. Branch staff and legislators alike are put at extreme risk by the proposed work schedule, which is designed to exert pressure and ensure the passage of controversial legislation, at the expense of public health.

The solution to this challenge is not to marginalize the minority or dismiss the concerns of the public. Experts have declared it is unsafe to open the building. It is no less dangerous to expose staff to more than 12 hours a day, working in a closed Capitol.

There is a better way.

We are ready and willing to limit bill reading when the House changes course with a demonstrated commitment to work together:

This is a year for healing, in our state and nation; a time to come together. It is not a time for deeply divisive, partisan legislation while the public is locked out of the building. Struggling Oregonians don’t deserve to be traumatized further. Instead, let’s give them hope.

I look forward to working with you to find a path forward and encourage you to work with us to not only protect public health but find common ground in the days and weeks ahead.

The gravity of the impasse was felt during the floor session on Monday, March 22, when the Speaker asked that the Republican Caucus vote to move a bill back to committee without reading the entire bill. The bill is 171 pages long -- and would take an estimated eight and a half hours to read -- and the Republicans refused to grant a waiver on the requirement to read the bill.


--Staff Reports

Post Date: 2021-03-22 11:39:45Last Update: 2021-03-22 12:34:26



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