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Think Out Loud

Live from Salem

Pete Springer/OPB

Emergency preparedness is one thing many people are thinking about this week — in Salem and around the state. Scientists warn that Oregon is at risk for seismic activity as severe or worse than the 9.0 quake that shook Japan because of the Cascadia Subduction zone that runs along the west coast. Senate president Peter Courtney says Oregon is not prepared for an earthquake, or an ensuing tsunami, like the one that hit Japan last Friday. According to Courtney, his fellow lawmakers need to make funding earthquake preparedness a top priority instead of hoping a big quake won’t happen.

Another hot topic in the legislature right now is an issue that comes up again and again: the kicker. The Constitution of Oregon mandates that when there’s a budget surplus, the state “kicks” money back to taxpayers — individuals as well as corporations. Oregon is the only state with this kind of law. Some say it’s time for us to give it up. Others advocate for tweaking it. There are quite a few “kicker reform” bills in the works right now. Because revisions to the kicker would involve altering the state constitution, voters would need to approve any changes that manage to pass in the legislature.

Our Capital People feature brings you interesting people who work in the Capitol building but are not elected officials. This time, it’s Dexter Johnson, who heads up the Legislative Counsel office, where lawyers work with legislators, lobbyists and constituents to translate their ideas into “statutory language.” When I characterized this writing style as “legalese,” Johnson politely informed me that “that’s kind of a pejorative term for using language very precisely.”

What questions do you have for the legislature’s lawyer? What would you like to know about the state’s emergency preparedness? How would you vote on changes to the kicker law?

For more about what’s happening in Salem, you can always check in with OPB reporter Chris Lehman on his Capitol Currents blog.

The Public Health Web site Dave Stuckey mentioned is here.


2011 session legislature taxes

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