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Legislature’s last gasps as 2022 session nears end

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Oregon Capital Bureau

Broken tail lights, Russian vodka, the Great Resignation, overtime pay, and a machine speed-reading a 193-page budget bill were pieces of a hyperactive Tuesday as the Legislature hit the final week of the 2022 session.

In the main event of the day, the Senate and House swapped political hot potatoes.

The House voted 37-23 along party lines to approve a contentious farmworker overtime bill, sending it to the Senate.

“As a first generation Peruvian-American, I’m honored to be a part of this moment and to have understood the many stories and struggles shared with us throughout this session,” said Rep. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland.

The Senate voted 16-11 for what’s been dubbed “the broken tail light law” that would limit police vehicle stops. It now goes to the House.

“Soft-on-crime policies like these are what is causing Oregonians to feel unsafe in their homes, now they will feel unsafe on the roads,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend,

Signs the Legislature was coming into the final days of its 35-day sprint of a “short session” could be seen in the committee calendar. In the first weeks after the session began Feb. 1, the 37 legislative committees held up to 30 meetings a day, five days a week. By Tuesday, the trickle was down to two committees, with no meetings scheduled for Wednesday.

Legislation cannot be amended on the floor of the House and Senate, so the final committee hearings were sometimes dramatic showdowns over which bills would make the jump to the floor and which would remain in the legislative graveyard at the end of the session.

‘Great Resignation’ hits Oregon Legislature

House Bill 1566 stalled in committee this week with Democrats not seeing a firm majority in both chambers to ensure passage. The bill would have increased lawmakers’ salaries from $33,000 to $63,000. Backers say the pay skews the pool of candidates to people who are wealthy enough to absorb the time away from work, retirees, and those with investment incomes. It keeps out a younger, more diverse and less wealthy group of Oregonians whose voices they say are under-represented in Salem.

With the bill apparently dead, Democratic House members Karin Power of Milwaukie, Rachel Prusak of West Linn and Anna Williams of Hood River, jointly announced they would not seek re-election to the House.

The three lawmakers’ joint statement issued Friday echoed motives of what sociologists have dubbed “Great Resignation.” It’s a movement of workers and professionals quitting their jobs when faced with orders from their boss to come back to the office for work. They are done with the go-getters’ ladder-climbing mantra of “TGIM” – “Thank God It’s Monday.”

Some leave for better paying jobs. Others retire. But many just say that after two years of a life-threatening virus demanding people examine what is important in life, they aren’t going to just return to a pre-pandemic emphasis on work instead of family, friends, and enjoying life.

“Balancing our work, multiple day jobs, families and our service has become unsustainable,” the three wrote.

They join several other lawmakers who have left, three to run for governor, two moving out of state for family reasons, and others just looking for a healthier lifestyle mix.

Rule of the machines

With nearly all legislation out of committee, the agendas look as if they could be dealt with in a couple of days. But that won’t happen.

Under the constitution, a bill must be read out loud in its entirety on final passage. As a courtesy, Republicans have agreed to a motion that bills be read only by their short titles. But under its current slow-down tactics, Republican leaders are requiring each piece of legislation be read out loud, a process that can take several hours or even days on long bills.

One bill that looks like a major lump in the mechanical voice’s throat is House Bill 5202, the Budget Reconciliation legislation that includes projects and programs big and small, many part of an effort by House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, to make a good faith effort at increasing spending in rural areas and smaller towns.

While nearly everyone supports the spending, they’ll have to sit through hours of listening to the laundry list of state money for projects in lawmakers’ districts around the state.

Know your enemy

The old saying that all politics is local was turned on its ear in cities and states across the nation over the past week and official attempts to find ways to punish Russia and its strongman dictator President Vladimir Putin for his bloody, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Oregon is striking back where it hurts: Russian vodka sales.

The war in Ukraine found its way to the shelves of state liquor stories. The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission told stores to stop selling Russian distilled spirits.

A Bend bar owner got a jump on things, making a video showing him last week dumping bottles of Stolichnaya. There he was with the bottles showing the Hotel Moskva on the label and the red banner with the words “RUSSIAN VODKA.”

During the Cold War, Stolichnaya was one of the few world-renown symbols of quality products from the Soviet Union. During a thaw in 1972, Pepsi made a deal to market Stolichnaya in the United States in exchange for Pepsi selling in the Soviet Union. The retro-communist label had a cachet and Pepsi didn’t want any significant changes for the American market.

But with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, its lineage became scrambled. Different distilleries where Stolichnaya was made or bottled went into business for themselves, including the former main factory, in Ukraine.

Stolichnaya sold in Oregon is made in Latvia, an American ally and member of NATO.

OLCC helpfully issued a list of about two dozen Russian-owned vodkas that might be found in Oregon stores, with the most common brand being Russian Standard. Others include Hammer+Sickle and Jewel of Russia Ultra. Several distilled spirits magazines have suggested a switch to Kozak Vodka, made in Ukraine. Or try one of the Oregon handcrafted boutique distilled spirits. 

The showstopper arrives in the Senate

Amid the long list of bills and other action on the Oregon Legislative Information Services on Monday was a list of bills getting a first reading, what happens when legislation first comes to the floor of one of the chambers.

In the list was SCR 203. Senate Concurrent Resolution 203 is short and will be read by staff in each chamber. It has to be done by March 7 and be followed by the smack of a wooden gavel.

“Be It Resolved by the Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon: That the 2022 regular session of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the Eighty-first Legislative Assembly is adjourned sine die.”

“Sine die” is a Latin term used in government to mean “without future date.”

Translation: “We’re going home. See ya next year.”

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