The session went well

Rep. Dennis Richardson

Rep. Dennis Richardson

The 2011 Oregon Legislative Session ended Thursday, and the House co-governance model negotiated by the House Republicans and Democrats worked remarkably well.

Under Oregon’s 2011 House co-governance model, the 30/30 Republican / Democrat split resulted in equal power sharing in all House capacities including Co-Speakers of the House, Co-Chairs of Ways & Means and all other House committees. In addition to having co-chairs, every committee had an equal number of Republican and Democrat members.

All proposed legislation was assigned to a committee by mutual consent of the co-speakers, Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) and Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay). If the co-speakers could not agree on which committee to assign a bill, it was automatically assigned to the Rules Committee.

Once assigned to a committee, no bill could receive a public hearing or a work session unless it was approved by both co-chairs of that committee. Since committee co-chairs knew that they might eventually want a public hearing on a bill for one of their own members, most co-chairs were quick to allow a public hearing when requested by the other co-chairs.

Public hearings alone did not result in a bill becoming law. After a public hearing was held, a committee work session was needed for a bill to receive a committee’s vote. During a work session, if a majority of committee members voted in favor of a bill, it would either be moved to the Ways & Means Committee for financial considerations or it would move directly to the House floor for debate and a vote by the members of the House of Representatives. Once a bill received a majority vote in the House, it was then transferred to the Senate and the committee process would begin again. Several good House bills languished and died in Senate committees.

In the House, work sessions on bills were not allowed unless both committee co-chairs agreed that the bill under consideration should go forward and possibly become Oregon law. Thus, Oregon’s co-governance model gave each of the committee co-chairs “the power of NO.” As a result of this “power of NO,” most bad bills died in committee.

Some Democrats were of the opinion that tax increases were needed in these times of reduced revenue streams. The Republican co-chairs did not agree and the “power of NO” enabled them to ensure many proposed tax increase bills died in committee.

On a more positive note, common ground was found and mutual agreement was apparent in many instances. Committee co-chairs often agreed on bipartisan legislation that was enacted for the best interests of Oregon citizens.  Thus, much was accomplished in the various House committees and many important bills were passed by House committees.

As discussed in a previous newsletter, a key issue of contention was whether or not to approve the bonding for the Oregon Sustainability Center (OSC). All of the legislative leadership except for Co-Speaker Hanna and myself favored authorizing $37.5 million in long-term bonds for the OSC project. Co-Speaker Hanna and I asked for a presentation on the status of the project and confirmed that inadequate financial and project documentation existed to justify investing millions of dollars at this time. The OSC project was not approved at this time and the bonds required for its construction will not be authorized unless and until detailed questions about the Oregon Sustainability Center’s financial sustainability are answered.

Hopefully, the links above give sufficient information on the bad bills that failed and the good bills that passed during the 2011 legislative session. Oregon citizens can be proud of the professional manner in which both the Republicans and Democrat legislators conducted themselves during this year’s legislative session.

As the House Republican Co-Chair of the Ways & Means Committee I worked hard to promote sound economic principles while compromising again and again in order to reach agreement with the House and Senate Democrat co-chairs. A realistic revenue number was used as the starting point for our budget negotiations. A compromise figure of $460 million was left in the “Ending Balance” to provide a cushion in case Oregon’s upcoming economic forecasts are lower than expected.

Looking back on this session, it is worth noting that the first major budget passed was $5.7 billion for K-12 schools. For the first time in more than a decade, the K-12 budget was passed in April, which enabled school districts to plan accordingly for the next school year. Usually the K-12 budget is held back and used as an end-of-session political pawn.

Now, nearly six months after I moved to Salem and drove nearly four hours each way to get home for the past 25 weekends, this legislative session has finally concluded.

Under the circumstances, the session went as well as could be expected. The co-governance model was a success. The budget has been balanced and the work of the Legislature has been completed. It has been an honor to represent you, wherever you live in Oregon, as a state legislator and one of the Co-Chairs of Ways and Means.

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