Oregon's 2013 Legislative Session: Let's get ready to ruuuuumble!

Carla Axtman

Next week, the 2013 Oregon Legislative Session gets underway in earnest. So what can we expect to see in terms of priorities for the House and Senate? With the Democrats back in control of the Oregon House (after the 2011-2012 tie) and the Senate and Governor's office still firmly in Democratic control, it's tough to see how the Republican agenda can gain much traction. But still, it's worth taking a look at the priorities of all sides. And since there is no super-majority in the House or Senate, there may be some compromises.

On the Senate Democrats side, spokesperson Tom Powers gave me the bullet points version of their priorities:

--Funding Schools --Helping Business --Boosting the middle class

Powers said that the agenda will be driven in large part by the House and Senate passing one another's priority legislation--and that progressives should see a lot to like. The House especially is energized by incoming freshmen and established liberal members.

House Democrats spokesperson Jared Mason-Gere echoed those same priorities for the House Democrats. Mason-Gere said that they'll use the Governor's budget as a starting point, but that Kitzhaber's budget doesn't include enough money for teachers--districts will still see cuts under that budget. House Dems are also not lined up with Kitzhaber on PERS reform, so I suspect there will be some give and take on that as well.

Powers noted that the Senate Dems plan to do work on revenue for education, specifically around tax expenditures. Funds will be prioritized in such a way as to keep teachers in the classroom and for workforce training programs. The Senate will be using the recommendations from the 2011 Join Tax Credits Committee. On the House side, Mason-Gere said that they'll be trying to figure out how to make the entire education system better, now that Oregon is in recovery mode. This will also include combing through the list of tax expenditures, tuition equity and working on State Treasurer Ted Wheeler's proposal around bonding for scholarships.

Comprehensive tax reform is under discussion, with Senators Burdick and Hass taking the lead, according to Powers. How far that conversation goes is yet to be determined, I think. The Governor is apparently also looking at changes that would happen via initiative. (I've made a number of attempts to schedule an interview with the Governor about his legislative priorities. So far, I haven't got a call back or a return email. I'll keep trying).

(More after the jump)

The Democrats in both chambers have made workforce training a priority, with the House specifically discussing aligning workforce development and training to meet the needs for businesses to have a prepared workforce. The business discussion for the House and Senate then segues into recruiting new businesses to Oregon, with a priority around creating readiness for already zoned industrial sites. In addition, transportation infrastructure and streamlining economic development programs are high on the list.

Mason-Gere also made it clear that the House will be pushing hard on consumer protections around student debt/for-profit colleges, foreclosure protections, predatory debt collection and banning Bisphenol-A. The House will also work to pass legislation that ensures access to comprehensive healthcare for women as well as truth in advertising around so-called crisis pregnancy centers.

House Republicans say that they're interested in "pro-growth tax reform", which has historically just meant a bunch of tax cuts. Their education agenda doesn't appear to contain any priority for additional revenue, except for whatever comes out of "PERS reform". Republicans also seem eager to once again gut Oregon's land use laws and "reform" state government by getting rid of spending they consider "non-essential" and investigating fraud and abuse in government. Same stuff, new session.

The Senate GOP's are touting their priority list as "One Oregon: Prosperity for All". They want to give all Oregon businesses the same deal as was given to Nike, lower taxes for what they consider middle class and the poor and lower taxes on businesses in Oregon that are export-based (one wonders with all these tax giveaways how they will actually figure out how to put any substantive money into schools--much less public safety and other necessities).

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