A speed-up in Salem.
It's called a speed-up when employees are given more work without additional time to get it done. When the employees are state legislators, a speed-up can lead to bad bills being approved, good ones being killed and important proposals receiving inadequate scrutiny. As the 2014 Legislature prepares to adjourn on Sunday at the latest, Oregonians need to consider whether the deadlines they imposed when they approved annual sessions are too tight.
A measure requiring annual sessions passed in 2010 after lawmakers had twice demonstrated an ability to conduct two- or three-week budgetary tune-ups in what were technically special sessions. The idea was that most substantive legislation would be considered in odd-numbered years, as has been the case since statehood, but that shorter sessions would be regularly scheduled in even-numbered years to rebalance the budget and attend to a few matters of urgency. The measure limited odd-year sessions to 160 days in length, and even-year sessions to 35 days.
In their current session, lawmakers have considered a number of bills that are complex, controversial or both. At the same time, campaigns for the May 20 primary election are switching into high gear, turning every vote into an opportunity for grandstanding.
Among the proposals demanding attention is one that would approve $200 million in bonds for a cancer research center at Oregon Health & Science University and the renewal of a $450 million commitment to a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River. Treasurer Ted Wheeler is asking the Legislature to restructure how Oregon manages its $85 billion investment portfolio. Legislators are debating a plan to support legal services for low-income people with unclaimed funds awarded as damages in class-action lawsuits. Some hot-button social issues are on the agenda, including bills relating to firearms, marijuana, gambling and liquor.
Legislative committees have held hearings on some bills with only one hour's notice. The sense in Salem is that everything has to be done in a hurry - a sense that doesn't create an atmosphere of deliberation.
If even- and odd-year sessions are going to be alike in substance, they should be more alike in duration. Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, has floated the idea of adding 15 days to the legislative calendar in even-numbered years, and shortening the odd-year sessions by an equal amount. An alternative would be to limit the agenda for short sessions, perhaps by requiring a super-majority for the introduction of bills dealing with issues other than the budget.
If the Legislature finds itself with too much work and not enough time in even-numbered years, Oregonians need to begin thinking about ways to either limit the former or provide more of the latter.