In the days before the 2014 legislative session began, it looked like the campaign season already was seeping into the Capitol building and causing partisan divides. One week into the session, it looks like Democrats and Republicans may have their eyes on November but not on each other.
A handful of issues have floated to the forefront during this session and all but one have been free of partisan politics.
This session stands in sharp contrast to the 2013 session, when public pension reform and a complicated tax bill drew sharp lines between Democrats and Republicans — so sharp it took a special session in September to get the package of bills through the Oregon Legislature.
Even then, the package was so divisive it barely passed.
This time around, the parties appear aligned.
Democrats and Republicans have targeted Cover Oregon in bills and public hearings designed to fix the situation and prevent a similar one in the future.
Both parties also have avoided introducing a bill to fund the Interstate 5 Columbia River bridge, and thrown their support at a fleet of bills designed to make higher education more affordable.
Cover Oregon has garnered the lion’s share of attention and been the most frequent topic of discussion for lawmakers, and both parties seem equally worried.
In a Feb. 5 hearing on what to do about the program’s problems, House members from both sides of the aisle fretted over it, although they differed on how to approach a solution.
Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas, introduced a bill asking the federal government to extend the open enrollment period by a month to allow people more time to get insurance.
Republicans weren’t sure a month was sufficient but supported the idea that people needed more time to sign up for the health exchange. However, some seemed convinced the situation was too dire for such a short extension.
Fagan wasn’t opposed to amending her bill but said she wanted to stick to incremental, realistic solutions.
Meanwhile, higher-education policy ratcheted to the forefront as well, with bills sailing through committees. In the first week alone, the House voted unanimously to add apprenticeships and vocational training to the state’s education agenda, and the Senate unanimously passed a bill calling for a report on potentially free community college for all Oregon high school graduates.
Conversely, both parties so far are equally ignoring the Columbia River Crossing project. Gov. John Kitzhaber said finding money for it would be a priority for him in the session, but it doesn’t have the votes it needs in the Senate, and neither party has pushed the issue by introducing a bill.
The only drastically partisan issue to emerge so far is a gun-control bill introduced by Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, which would require background checks for person-to-person, online and garage sales of guns.
Republicans have pushed back against the bill, and a nearly identical proposal failed to make it to the Senate floor last year because it appeared not to have the votes to pass.
Senate President Peter Courtney has said this bill will have a vote, but what that vote will look like still is uncertain.
hhoffman@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6719 or follow at Twitter.com/HannahKHoffman
What’s coming up on Monday
House Bill 4059: Appoints a committee to study the state’s regulation of businesses. The committee would have six members, three each from the House and Senate, and develop a report on the state’s processes and fees for companies based in Oregon. It would then submit a report on how efficient or effective those processes are and how they could be improved. The report must be submitted by the end of 2014. Public hearing at 8 a.m. before the House Committee on Business and Labor in Hearing Room E.
House Bill 4036: Would elevate an assault on an Oregon State Hospital employee from a misdemeanor to a felony. The same bill was introduced in 2013 and has support from the hospital employees who say patient assaults on staff aren’t prosecuted frequently enough. Public hearing at 1 p.m. before the House Judiciary Committee in Hearing Room 343.