Annual Sessions: About Time

Jeff Alworth

In a final report last month, the Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature made six institutional reform recommendations, the most substantial of which was adopting annual sessions.  The current system, adopted accommodate farmer-legislators (who originally met in the winter, after the harvest), has been the 19th-Century standard for 121 years.  But that may be about to change:

After clocking the second-longest session in the state's history in 2005, Oregon legislative leaders say they're close to reaching agreement on an experiment involving shorter annual sessions, starting in 2007.

Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker-elect Jeff Merkley say legislators are near agreement on a proposal calling for the Legislature to convene Jan. 8 through June 30 next year. The Legislature then would adjourn until January 2008, when lawmakers would meet for as many as 60 days, primarily to address budget issues.

Finally!  Now, if we could just boost the salaries of these stewards of democracy up to, say mid-20th-Century levels, we'd really be cooking.

(If you're interested in the Commission's findings and recommendations, they're available here.)

  • Anonymous (unverified)

    It seems pretty backwards that the Oregon Legislature only meets once every two years. That might have worked 50 years ago when the state was pretty small and Portland and the Willamette Valley mere backwaters in the US. It doesn't make sense anymore.

    Also Legislators should be paid a median income to do their jobs and not have to rely on other full time jobs to make ends meet. Yes, there is always a danger of "professional legislatures" that can become disconnected to their constituencies. However, this is Oregon we are talking about, not the US Congress.

    Libertarians would rather we do away with government, hire private companies to handle things, until they or their families need help. Then, all bets are off. Where's the government?? Perhaps the better question for Libertarians would be... where's your morals?

  • keyfur (unverified)

    i support any attempt to make our legislature more professional. [at least any attempt i have heard of so far.] i like this idea and i like the idea of paying our legislators to be full time legislators.

  • Robert Huffman (unverified)

    I guess I don't get it. What sort of pressing needs to we have that are going to be solved by more political infighting in an extra session? Our state needs some reforms, most importantly in taxes and school funding. But I don't see how an extra session solves those problems.

  • PanchoPdx (unverified)

    With annual sessions legislators will become more familiar with ethics rules and disclosure standards.

    If legislators took lobbyist-paid Maui trips every year, they'd be much more likely to remember to report them.

    And once the legislators become accustomed to yearly tributes from the lobby, it will push aside all those ham-n-egg wannabe-lobbyists who can't afford to keep up with the new pace of Salem lawmaking.

    It's just a bunch of playa-haters trying to keep the Legislature from meeting 365.

  • Ramon (unverified)

    Annual sessions would seem to increase the influence of money in politics. Lobbyists would have two bites at the apple after each fundraising/election cycle. Didn't the commission members include a bunch of lobbyists?

  • LT (unverified)

    Ramon, that was the original suspicion.

    But it was very interesting for those of us who attended the PCOL meetings how angry those lobbyists were at polarizing elections, measures funded from outside the state, and other factors had changed the Oregon legislature for the worse.

  • Steve (unverified)

    Yes, we should make the legislature full-time and pay them well. Then they could be like Congress, who I believed had on average a grand total of 103 working days per member this year.

    I think paying them to be full-time is just going to lead to a lot more game-playing and non-essential business. At least when it is part-time, they feel some pressure to get things done.

  • (Show?)

    What evidence is there that annual sessions increase the influence of money? Almost every other statehouse in the country have annual sessions, and why wouldn't they? In Oregon's case, legislators must manage a $12 billion biennial budget on the few months they meet every two years. That they meet every two years makes the influence of money--for example the money to which Karen Minnis was beholden--far more powerful. Real change is easily thwarted by legislators who want to fart around once every two years.

    The place where money really effects politics is in the initiative system, where, with a relatively small and unregulated expenditure, you can permanently tie the hands of legislators with laws like Measure 5 and 37.

    You also make infighting far worse when you put people unfamiliar together to accomplish major, controversial legislation. Again, is this anything other than the usual, since-government-is-bad,-less-is-always-better pablum, or is there some evidence?

    I'd like to hear exactly how money and divisivenes plagues legislators who meet more often--something other than consipircacy theories.

  • (Show?)

    One of the biggest problems is that the legislature doesn't have enough time to deal with the really big issues. They barely get through the basics before they adjourn. They need more time to spend working on the big issues like tax reform, education (spending, curriculum, etc.), and the like.

    Right now they try to cram so much stuff into the session that I don't think they really get enough time to research and work on the issues.

    <h2>Meeting every year is a good idea. The days where the legislature had very little to do are over. We just have way too much to get done to try to pack it in half a year every 2 years.</h2>

connect with blueoregon