Sine die is the constitutionally defined date that the legislative session ends. There is an interesting feeling of uneasy calmness at the Capitol. While a large percentage of bills died in the first session deadline in April, there are “zombie bills” still floating around. Zombie bills, are bills that were sent to either the Joint Ways and Means or the Rules committees, which aren’t subject to session deadlines. These bills are often kept alive because they have a very broad “Relating to…” clause, like “Relating to the environment” or “Relating to education”, and can be re-written later during the session.
Because zombie bills can be re-written, policies that may have died earlier in the session, may come back. For this reason, the “bad policies” that were a concern in the beginning of the session, could still be a threat. The importance of soft skills, like analyzing human interactions, has never been so clear to me. Some committees are receiving informational presentations about marine reserves and coastal tourism, and some are approving the Governor’s executive appointments some committees are kind of slow, kind of fast, and definitely ominous.
I’ve had the incredible opportunity to help with passing the Governor’s Environmental Protection Act, which seeks to prevent backsliding of state air and water quality standards that occur at the federal level. I’ve been tasked with developing testimony for Governor’s Office staff and floor speeches for legislators, brainstorming responses to potential opposition of the bill, and collaborating with state agencies to develop strategy. While the learning curve is steep, I feel like this have given me a crash course in communicating and developing policy.
What is the goal of the policy? Defining the goal of a policy is critical in ensuring effective development and outcome, as well as garnering support for the idea. What is the purpose? The next step, is to refine the policy by defining what the mechanisms that will be used to execute the goal. I have found that concise and clear marketing of a policy requires the integration of these two aspect. With 1,500 bills circulating during the session, it is impossible for legislators to understand the ins and outs of all of them. A common theme I have seen during committee hearings and floor votes is that legislators are unaware or unsure of what a policy is or does. Furthermore, when politics are concerned, sewing misinformation about a policy is an effective tool to stall or kill a bill.
In my short time observing the legislature, I’ve also been able to reflect on the degree to which messaging and public relations drive politics. The constant balance of context, timing, and substance is a delicate dance. The timing for the introduction of a policy is all dependent on the type of policy and the current political climate. For example, the timing and context of the Governor’s Environmental Protection Act was in direct response to the Trump Administration rolling back several clean air and water protections. The substance was also important, in that the Governor’s policy protected the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Water Acts; three landmark environmental protection policies that, in general, are viewed positively and as necessary. The timing, context and substance of the policy were critically balanced in demonstrating the urgent need for it.
The Oregon Environmental Protection Act based both legislative chambers and was signed by Governor Kate Brown on March 24, 2019.