Legislative Update from Oregon Sea Grant’s Legislative Fellow

To date, it has been an incredible experience serving as the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow, working for the Oregon Legislative Assembly’s Coastal Caucus, and being a part of the 2013 legislative session.

Last week (that of April 15th) marked two important benchmarks for this legislative session: the halfway point of the session and a deadline for bills to pass out of committee in their originating chamber. A symbolic marker, the halfway point denotes the mid-point between the beginning of this legislative session and the constitutional sine die date of June 30, 2013. It is at this time that many legislators take stock of what work they have accomplished — and what legislative goals they yet have to achieve. As of today, 2,631 measures have been introduced, 357 passed by the House, 266 passed by the Senate, and 47 signed into law by the Governor.

Last week’s calendar included a second important procedural marker: the date by which bills must be passed favorably from committee in their originating chamber. In the Oregon Legislative Assembly, much of the work is completed in committee. Once introduced, bills move next to the chamber floor for a first reading, and from there are assigned to a committee by either the Senate President or the Speaker of the House. Senate bills are referred to one of ten Senate committees and House bills are referred to one of sixteen House committees. In lieu of chamber-specific committees, a bill may instead be referred to once of six joint committees.

It is in these committees where much of the work happens in the Legislative Assembly — and where the fate of most Oregon legislative measures is decided. A committee may essentially “kill” a bill by simply failing to take any action on it. Further, a committee may conduct a public hearing on a bill (to gather public input and feedback), but may then decline to hold a work session, meaning they will not vote on the bill; this is another action that will “kill” a bill. To continue on in the legislative process, a bill must receive a majority of committee member votes — allowing the measure to pass from the committee and back to the chamber floor for a vote by the Senate or House body.

Last Thursday, April 18th, marked the deadline by which bills must have been voted out of their originating chamber’s committee*— House bills from House committees and Senate bills from Senate committees. This deadline serves, to some degree, as a procedural sifting mechanism. What does not move from committee by this date does not move forward and is essentially a “dead” bill.

Two small factoids provide some context to the importance of this deadline: prior to the April 18th deadline I tracked close to 300 bills (293 to be precise) for the Coastal Caucus; today, my list contains 123 bills — an almost 60% reduction. While this represents a mere snippet of the thousands of bills being considered by the Legislative Assembly, it illustrates the functional value of the deadline, which serves to considerably shrink the universe of bills that the Legislative Assembly must now consider and assess. Of course, this is most important as the days of the 2013 legislative session begin to grow shorter.

Several important bills impacting the ocean and marine resources made it out of committee by this deadline— among others, Senate Bills 580, 605, 606, and 737; and House Bills 2694, 3451, and 3476. I will discuss those in more detail in a later post, but you can search for the bills here to keep an eye on their progress: https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2013R1

The next major deadline on the horizon is June 1st, the last day for policy committees to move measures that originated in the opposite chamber out of committee.

*Three types of committees are exempt from this requirement: the Joint Committee on Ways and Means; the House or Senate Committees on Rules; or the House or Senate Committee on Revenue.