"Guns, wolves, liquor, gambling...and solar; Oregon Legislature's in town"
One bill would allow wolves to be killed if they prey on livestock; another would give a tax credit to ranchers whose herds fall prey to wolves. They're part of a long list of bills vying for attention at the 2012 Legislature, which convenes Wednesday.
Written by Harry Esteve, The Oregonian
While meat-and-potato issues of schools and health care are supposed to dominate the 2012 Legislature's agenda,
no self-respecting posse of western lawmakers would be content to stop
there. Bills about wolves, cougars, guns, liquor and gambling will make
at least guest appearances.
OK, solar energy and carbon, too. This is Oregon, after all.
Legislative leaders have warned that the abbreviated session that gets underway Wednesday will be a "tightly scripted" affair focused on re-balancing the state budget and moving forward on education and Medicaid reforms. Undeterred, rank-and-file legislators have submitted a long and eclectic list of bills in hopes of getting at least a hearing if not an actual vote.
"The Legislature is pretty capable of multi-tasking," says Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, sponsor of a bill to make information on concealed handgun licenses exempt from public disclosure.
By all means, lawmakers should concentrate on macro-issues, such as jobs and the economy, Thatcher said, "but there are other issues we can talk about." Thatcher said she introduced her gun bill because she thinks publishing names of license-holders defeats the reason they got the concealed weapon permit in the first place -- security.
Thatcher's bill has lots of competition, not the least of which are two bills introduced as counter measures by Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland. Burdick wants to prohibit concealed handguns on college campuses and in public buildings in general.
She said she felt she had to introduce her bills after Thatcher introduced hers.
"This is a session where we have plenty to do without taking up a hot-button issue like this," Burdick said. "But if other people insist on taking it up, then I think this is the direction we should move."
Under the rules laid down by leadership, each lawmaker was allowed to introduce up to two bills. Those are in addition to the five bills each committee could introduce. In total, more than 270 bills have been printed so far for a session that is supposed to wrap up at the end of the month.
Already in the hopper: Efforts to dramatically redo public worker retirement pensions, to raise income taxes on the wealthy, to cut capital gains taxes, to clamp down on state spending, to slow the rate of home foreclosures, and to make sure Facebook doesn't have to pay property taxes on its new data storage plant in Prineville.
Like the gun bills, many introduced for the February session have a distinctly Wild West flavor.
Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, put his name on a proposed law that would allow wolves to be killed if they prey on livestock. He said he's trying to head off a potential lawsuit that might prohibit the "taking" of wolves, even those "that have become accustomed to snacking on cattle."
On the other side of the ledger is a bill that would offer a tax credit to ranchers who lose livestock to wolves.
Keeping with the predator theme, Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, is proposing a pilot program that would allow hunters to use dogs to hunt cougars -- a method that has been banned by voters.
Then there's liquor and gambling. Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem, has a bill that allows charity organizations to raffle off booze without a special license. A bill introduced in the Senate Rules committee reduces criminal sanctions for someone caught cheating while gambling, from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Reflecting Oregon's more recent sensibilities, the House Energy and Environment Committee is working a bill that would make it easier to site photovoltaic solar panels on land zoned for farming. And Rep. Mary Nolan, D-Portland, sponsored a bill that would require the state to take into account gas use and carbon generation when awarding contracts.
Odds are steep against many of them making it into the law books. Sponsors have two weeks to get their bills through a committee and approved by either the House or the Senate. If a bills stalls at any point along the way, it's pretty much dead.
"Members need to be working very hard these first few days, talking to committee chairs, talking to their colleagues," said Angela Wilhelms, chief of staff for Republican House Co-speaker Bruce Hanna. The session, she said, "will move very quickly."