If you were taught any civics, probably the most basic thing you were taught is the three branches of government. You can probably still name them: The Legislative, the Executive and the Judicial Branches. Well, Oregon's founders didn't want you to rest on your laurels after 10th grade, so they created an appendage to the Executive. Article III, Section 1 of the Oregon Constitution spells it out.
Separation of powers. The powers of the Government shall be divided into three separate branches, the Legislative, the Executive, including the administrative, and the Judicial; and no person charged with official duties under one of these branches, shall exercise any of the functions of another, except as in this Constitution expressly provided.
Article III, Section 2 says it all starts with Legislative action:
Budgetary control over executive and administrative officers and agencies. The Legislative Assembly shall have power to establish an agency to exercise budgetary control over all executive and administrative state officers, departments, boards, commissions and agencies of the State Government.
Once the legislature has created executive agencies and given them a budget and a mission, they are under day-to-day control of the executive -- The Governor.
The Administrative Department is described in Article VI. Because the Secretary of State and the State Treasurer are elected officials in addition to the Governor, who is the head of the Executive Branch, they are deemed part of the Executive Branch, but not really. Get it? The fact that they are called out on the Oregon Constitution gives them a measure of independence from the Governor.
To further complicate things, there are two other agencies within the Executive Branch, which are not named as part of the administrative branch, but are separate elected officials. The Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries as head of that agency and the Attorney General as head of the Oregon Justice Department are statewide elected officials in the Executive branch.
The Governor is in charge of all other agencies in state government. Most agencies have a board of commissioners, appointed by the Governor and in some cases, confirmed by the State Senate, to direct policy for the agency.
In the interest of local control, Oregon has 197 school districts. This allows for citizens to make decisions about education on a very local level, but it also has the effect of creating very small school districts that don't have the resources to respond to very unique needs or to leverage larger procurement opportunities. This is where Education Service Districts come in.
Oregon’s Education Service Districts are defined in Oregon law. ESDs originated in Oregon's first laws that established a general system of common schools -- that has maintained but changed Oregon's mid-level education service entities.
The mission of ESDs has remained somewhat constant: "Education Service Districts assist school districts and the State of Oregon in achieving Oregon's education goals by providing equitable educational opportunities for all of Oregon’s public school students."
Each ESD provides regional services to its component school districts, primarily in areas that the school districts alone would not be able to adequately and equitably provide. Examples include high cost technology systems, and services to children with severe disabilities who qualify under the category of high cost but low incidence. Services are offered within four large categories: special needs children, school improvement, technology, and administrative services.
In addition to allowing schools to withdraw from an ESD, 2011 SB 250 added new data and informational reporting requirements to the Oregon Transparency website for all Education Service Districts. Reporting requirements include: revenue, expenditures, contracts, salary data, and informational reports; local service plans, audit reports, and meeting notices, etc.
Each Education Service District is governed by an elected board of directors, much like a school district. Their meetings are open to the public.
This is a list of all the ESDs
Columbia Gorge ESD
Harney ESD 17
High Desert ESD
Linn Benton Lincoln ESD
Malheur ESD 14
North Central ESD
Northwest Regional ESD
Region 18 ESD
South Coast ESD 7
Southern Oregon ESD
For most bills passed in the Oregon Legislature, a simple majority -- 50% plus one -- is required in both houses, plus the signature of the governor for the bill to become law. There are 60 House seats and 30 Senate seats, so the math is pretty simple on this one. One thing to note is that if there is an absence or vacancy, that doesn't reduce the number of yes votes needed to pass a piece of legislation. This is laid out in Article IV Section 25 (1) of the Oregon Constitution says "a majority of all the members elected to each House shall be necessary to pass every bill or Joint resolution."
The President of the United States has a "pocket veto," meaning that if he "pockets" an act of Congress and doesn't sign it after 10 days, the bill is effectively vetoed. Article 1 Section 7 of the US Constitution says
If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a Law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a Law.
Oregon is different. Oregon has a "pocket signature," so to speak, except up to 30 days after the end of a session.
Article V Section 15b (3) If any bill shall not be returned by the Governor within five days (Saturdays and Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to the Governor, it shall be a law without signature, unless the general adjournment shall prevent its return, in which case it shall be a law, unless the Governor within thirty days next after the adjournment (Saturdays and Sundays excepted) shall file such bill, with written objections thereto, in the office of the Secretary of State, who shall lay the same before the Legislative Assembly at its next session in like manner as if it had been returned by the Governor.
There is an even lower threshold than the simple majority. Resolutions passed by both chambers creating ballot measures to amend the Oregon Constitution need only a simple majority of both chambers and do not need the governor's signature Additionally, Article V of the US Constitution provides for actions of state legislatures. In these cases, the signature of the Governor is not required.
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
There are two types of legislation that require super-majorities.
In November of 1996, Oregonians voted to amend the constitution by a vote of 52.3% to 47.7% to require a 3/5 majority to raise taxes. That means 36 yes votes in the House and 18 votes in the Senate. Article IV Section 25 (2) says, "Three-fifths of all members elected to each House shall be necessary to pass bills for raising revenue." Sometimes there is a dispute over what exactly a tax is, and, in the end this will be resolved by the courts.
When Oregon voters passed Measure 11 in 1994 requiring mandatory sentences for certain felonies, by a margin of 65.6% to 34.4%, they set in the Oregon Constitution a requirement that in order for the legislature to change any of these requirements, they must have a 2/3 vote or 40 votes in the House and 20 votes in the Senate. It reads, thus,
Article IV Section 33. Reduction of criminal sentences approved by initiative or referendum process. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 25 of this Article, a two-thirds vote of all the members elected to each house shall be necessary to pass a bill that reduces a criminal sentence approved by the people under section 1 of this Article.
All this is for naught if either one of the chambers is unable to call together a quorum. A two-thirds majority is also needed just to do business:
Article IV Section 12. Quorum; failure to effect organization. Two thirds of each house shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may meet; adjourn from day to day, and compel the attendance of absent members. A quorum being in attendance, if either house fail to effect an organization within the first five days thereafter, the members of the house so failing shall be entitled to no compensation from the end of the said five days until an organization shall have been effected.
These are important thresholds to know to understand the balance of power in the legislature.
It’s a good idea to check up on yourself. Here’s how.
It's a good idea to go to the Secretary of State's website to check your voter registration status a couple of months before the election. This link is also used to check to see if your ballot was counted. after the election. This site will as for your name and birthdate and you can see:
If you are registered to vote and whether your registration is active
What party you are registered with (or if you are non-affiliated)
A link to ballot dropsites in your county.
A link that shows you all your state elected officials. You have to go to your county clerk's page to get more local officials.
A button to go update your registration. You can update your voter registration information, until 8 p.m. on Election Day and still cast a ballot. However, if your registration is updated close to an election, your ballot might have to be issued at the county elections office.
Anyone who has an Oregon driver's license, permit or DMV identification card can register to vote online or do things like change their party affiliation.
To cancel voter registration and be removed from the voter rolls, contact the county in which you registered.
After four years, the impacts are finally being felt
In 2015 the Oregon Legislature passed Motor Voter, in the form of HB 2177 which directs the DMV to effectively turn over data from every eligible unregistered voter (over 16 years old, an Oregon resident, and a US citizen) when they visit the DMV to apply for, renew, or replace an Oregon drivers’ license, ID card, or permit. Each time this happens, the voter will receive a mailing from the Oregon Elections Division explaining their options for registering to vote. With the card, they can:
Do nothing. You will be registered to vote as a non-affiliated voter (not a member of a political party).
Choose a political party by returning the card. Joining a political party will allow you to vote in its primary elections.
Use the card to opt-out and decline to register to vote.
One thing that Motor Voter has done, is effectively register everyone in the state to vote. The only way to not be registered to vote is to be ineligible or to take actions to not be registered to vote. Even then, you still might find yourself registered to vote. This has had two major side-effects.
The first is that persons eligible to sign initiative, referendum and recall petitions has increased. You have to be an Oregon registered voter to sign any of these, and with the increase in registered voters, the pool of possible signers has increased -- without increasing the threshold for the number of signatures needed.
Second, it has made voter registration drives a thing of the past. Political parties and civic organizations who formerly did this find very slim pickings now.
These numbers are from July 2020, so they change over time, but absent any change in the drivers of the underlying data, the conclusions from them should be stable.
The population of Oregon was 4,217,737 according to the US Census Bureau, but 20.5% of those were under 18 and ineligible to vote, leaving 3,353,101 voting age people in Oregon. Of those, 2,843,060 are registered to vote, leaving 510,041 voting age unregistered persons. Subtract from that an unknown number of non-citizens, persons who don't wish to register to vote, and slackers who have been removed from the voter rolls due to having relocated (if your vote-by-mail ballot is returned, you are placed in inactive status) and you are left with very few people who are fine citizens and worthy of chasing down and registering.
In the 2015 session, Motor Voter was passed and it took effect in January of 2016. It's now been over 4 years and, as one might expect since drivers licenses expire every four years, the increase in voter registrations has plateaued almost exactly 4 years from the law going into effect. This chart shows voter registration over time. Notice how the grey line (non-affiliated voters) levels off in about January of 2020?
An action proposed to be taken by the Legislature or either chamber is called a measure. If a measure is finally adopted, it is called an act. So, a bill passed by the Legislature is not a law until it is signed by the Governor. Until that time, it is an act of the Legislature.
Measures are numbered, and the numbers are unique within the two-year session (not to be confused with the individual long, short and possibly special "sessions"), so to uniquely identify a bill, you have to refer to its year and session.
These are the types of measures that you'll see introduced during a legislative session.
Bill (HB or SB)
This is most of the work of the Legislature. A measure that creates new law, amends or repeals existing law, appropriates money, prescribes fees, transfers functions from one agency to another, provides penalties, or takes other action.
Resolution (HJR, SJR, HR or SR)
A measure used for proposing Constitutional amendments, creating interim committees, giving direction to a state agency, expressing legislative approval of action taken by someone else, or authorizing a kind of temporary action to be taken. A joint resolution may also authorize expenditures out of the legislative expense appropriations. This measure may be used by the Senate or House for a measure to take an action that would affect only its own members, such as appointing a committee of its members, or expressing an opinion or sentiment on a matter of public interest. If it is used by both chambers, it is a joint resolution.
Note that these resolutions do not need the signature of the Governor. They merely need to pass both chambers to be adopted. When it comes to amending the US Constitution, it calls for actions by the state legislatures -- not the Governor.
Article V. The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress;
Concurrent Resolution (HCR or SCR)
A measure affecting actions or procedures of both houses of the Legislative Assembly. A concurrent resolution is used to express sympathy, commendation, or to commemorate the dead.
Memorial (HJM, SJM, HM or SM)
A measure adopted by either the Senate or House (a measure adopted by both is a joint memorial) to make a request of or express an opinion to Congress or the President of the United States, or both. Oddly, a “memorial” is not used to memorialize the dead.
Rep. Marty Wilde does a beat-down on his opponents.
At the end of each daily legislative floor session, legislators are allow to give a few minute speech on anything of their choosing, called a remonstrance.
During the 2019 session, Rep. Marty Wilde gave this remonstrance, not driven by any legislation, but driven by an article that someone gave to him. This is his idea of how the party in power has a conversation about climate.
Rep. Wilde is entitled to his opinion -- even a few minutes with a captive audience on the floor of the Oregon House of Representatives -- but it's a little unbecoming to invoke science while committing just about every logical fallacy in the book.
How they differ from your average policy committee
There are (basically) two kinds of committees in the Legislature: Policy Committees and Ways & Means Committees. On Policy committees, it's Democrat vs. Republican and the Republicans always lose, unless it really doesn't matter, or unless someone sells their soul.
Ways & Means SubCommittees are different.
First of all, even though all budgets, as well as any bills that have a significant fiscal impact, go through them, they are not really budget committees. The budgets are made up by the Co-Chairs (or Tri-Chairs) of Ways & Means, and the SubCommittees don't really have that much input as to how much money goes to agencies and for what purpose.
This is why:
Let's say we have a family and we make $50,000 a year. I am the Car Committee for the family and I want to get a $72,000 Porsche. I can get a 5 year loan and the payments will be about $20,000 per year, including interest. What's the problem? The problem is that it only leaves $30,000 for all the other needs for the family (housing, food, utilities, etc). Why should I take that into account? It's a really nice car and it would be cool to have. That's why the Ways & Means SubCommittees don't get to fix budgets -- because every budget expenditure impacts the ability of every other budget expenditure and only those who have the really big picture can do the give and take necessary to craft a complete budget.
So, what do Ways & Means SubCommittees do, if they are not helping to craft the budget? The best use of Ways & Means SubCommittees and the scheduled committee meetings is as oversight for State Agencies. Each of the 120 or so State Agencies will have to appear before one of the SubCommittees and talk about what they are doing and justify their additional asks. It's a perfect time to hold them to account for performance, etc.
There are 6 Ways & Means SubCommittees (all of them are joint committees, consisting of both Senators and Representatives)
Transportation and Economic Development
Additionally, there is the Capitol Construction SubCommittee which does make important decisions about State owned infrastructure, but doesn't oversee any agencies. Further, there is a Joint Committee on Information Management and Technology, which oversees technology projects for the State.
If a Legislator is on policy committees, they will have all the drama and excitement of the debate over the latest restrictions on firearms, or housing, or the newest carve-out for illegal immigrants, or, well, sadly, there are no more debates about abortion anymore because they are all always available at any time and if you can pay for it the state will make your insurance pay for it, and if you don't have insurance, then the state will pay for it. So, if a Legislator wants to "participate" in those debates, they can, but they lost way back in November, when the citizens of Oregon elected a Democratic majority in both chambers, as well as the Governor. So, they're not really "participating" in any debate, because the Party in Power is going to run the table on them.
Or, they can get on a Ways & Means SubCommittee and face down the agency director of -- fill in the blank -- Oregon Health Authority, Energy Dept., DHS, Revenue, Employment, ODOT, whatever. The directors have to sit there and answer their questions, with the cameras rolling and the public watching and they can hold them accountable. It's the greatest power the minority party has in the Legislature.
One Legislator is fond of telling activists this:
While you were on the way to the Judiciary Committee hearing, where you were going to testify against the latest bill to infringe on your firearm rights, you walked past Hearing Room E. You were on your way to be the 318th person to testify about how this bill is unconstitutional and that it should not pass. You didn't really care that they don't have to listen to you and that they're going to pass the bill right through because they have an iron-clad majority in every branch of government, as you walked right past Hearing Room E. The hearing in Hearing Room E, was a budget hearing for the Department of Consumer and Business Services -- pretty boring stuff, especially compared to your gun rights being taken away -- and they were asking for 6 more people to help processing complaints against insurance companies, so that they could better serve the public, so they say.
That's what was going on in Hearing Room E, that you walked right by. And those 6 new employees, each will pay an average of $1,000 per year, or $2,000 per election cycle or $12,000 for the six of them in public employee union dues, which will go straight in the pocket of some Democrat, who, next November, will beat some incumbent Republican and further strengthen the iron-clad majority held by the Democratic Left, and they will be further emboldened to take more of your gun rights -- eventually just your gun.