The legislative session ended on Monday, and 2013's class of legislators wasn't the flashy group in recent history, but in a final sprint toward the finish line, they did manage to release $1 billion for important construction and education projects. Call these their "class gift"—some $600 million in capital projects and various spending for the state's eight universities and centers (yes, including OSU-Cascades) and another $150 million for community colleges (yes, including Central Oregon Community College); spending that positively affects long-term economics, jobs and opportunities in Central Oregon.
But otherwise, the Class of 2013 largely will fade into history for continuing politics-as-usual and advancing few new ideas.
Overall, the Source hands out a paltry, we-are-not-impressed C as a grade for the Class of 2013.
If politics are a tug-of-war—and increasingly they are a game between Democrats and Republicans—then the Ds walked away claiming slight victories and that they advanced their agendas by inches not feet, and the Rs, including our region's three representatives, Sen. Tim Knopp, Rep. Jason Conger and Rep. Gene Whisnant, left the session grumbling.
"Partisan, disappointing, wasted opportunity, lack of leadership" are the words used by Knopp to describe the session to the Source.
"The biggest missed opportunity of the session was the majority's inability to pass meaningful PERS reform," he explained. "The failure to pass meaningful PERS reform measure will mean fewer firefighters protecting our community, fewer police officers on the streets, fewer teachers in the classroom." It was Knopp's first term in the Senate—and he was endorsed by the Source, in part, for his ability to prudently handle financial matters (and, truthfully, in part, for the Democrats inability to field any half-witted candidate). In the midst of an otherwise lackluster session, Knopp did have a decent rookie year; he was active, sponsoring 48 bills, 22 of which were signed into law—many pointed toward financial matters.
But sometimes it is the ones that don't work out that leave the most lasting memories.
"The most frustrating battle of the legislative session," he explained, "was the inability for the House to pass legislation combating waste, fraud and abuse within Oregon's Medicaid system. My bipartisan legislation (SB 753) passed the Senate unanimously, but was held up for bitterly partisan reasons by the Democratic leadership in the Oregon House."
The central issue for the session was the budget—and, like mom and dad fighting over finances, the Democrats and Republicans turned the calculations into bipartisan squabbling. Revenue in Oregon is limited by specific restrictions—namely, caps on property tax increases and lack of sales taxes—which leaves the lawmakers primarily to figure out the budget by considering where to trim spending. The recovering economy did, however, provide some additional wiggle room with additional revenue—and the primary winner from increased spending was K-12 education, which will "enjoy" a near 15 percent increase (or, an additional $835 million), most likely translating into much-needed additional teachers in Oregon's primary and secondary classrooms, or restoring shortened school years to previous lengths.
One of the issues on which both parties seemed to agree was cleaning up the revenue stream from funds derived from gambling. With video and live poker games and hundreds of Lotto games active in taverns in the Portland area, elected officials from those regions presented a few bills to curtail state-sponsored gambling. Speaker of the House Tina Kotek (a Democrat) unsuccessfully tried to rally support for tighter rules on the state-sponsored poker games, while Rep. Julie Parrish (a Republican from nearby West Linn) tried to ban the Texas Hold 'Em poker parlors that have been increasingly popular over the past decade. Ultimately, though, the Legislature failed to make any changes.
The session ended Monday, with a flurry of construction projects; all told, totaling a $1 billion spending spree that allows some lawmakers to return to their home turf boasting about their accomplishments, like a young and bright Rep. Brent Barton posting to his Facebook page that the Legislature authorized a $5 million Willamette Falls redevelopment in the "heart of my district." Barton represents rural communities like Estacada and Oregon City southeast of Portland.
Knopp did help secure additional funding for the OSU-Cascades campus, one of his primary bragging points during his campaign. By 2025, it is predicted that the campus may support and house as many as 5,000 four-year college students, a cultural and economic boon which will be a massive change and addition to the city's long-term viability.
What was missed this past session, though, were any real meaningful social changes. At the session's start, the Legislature showed promise, passing a bill allowing undocumented high school graduates to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities. It was a generous bill that shadows many of the immigration reforms at the federal level. Otherwise, the Legislature seemed largely la-di-da oblivious to major social issues that are on people's minds—namely, same-sex marriage and health care. There were some nitpicking items—like banning minors from tanning booths, doubling fines for texting while driving, a failed attempt to criminalize slow drivers who occupy the passing lane, and the all-important allowance to sell wine in refillable growlers—but largely the Class of 2013 will soon fade from the headlines.
See you next session!
Sen. Tim Knopp
Overall: Although Sen. Knopp's personal politics and beliefs may not align with the Source's Subaru-driving, flip-flop-wearing, gay tree hugging ideals, he is representing the area's fiscal matters well, as well as bringing dignity and human concerns to the office.
Physical Education: A
A former Little League coach, Knopp showed particular concern for student athletes by introducing "Jenna's Law." Concussions from sport-related injuries have received over due attention in the past few years. While a previous "Max's Law" was passed in 2009 to require public school coaches to receive training to recognize and treat potentially injured students, it did not apply to non-public schools. The bill was amended to provide legal protections for volunteer coaches, and passed the House.
"My favorite moment this session," Knopp wrote us in an email, "was being honored to have Bend's Bob Maxwell in Salem as we advocated for the World War II Oregon Veterans Memorial. Bob is a former United States Army soldier and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor. Few moments are as humbling and inspiring as experiencing the patriotism and heroism of the greatest generation. Let us never forget, freedom is never free."
Knopp's grade was brought down what can be described as guilt-by-association: His Party held hostage increases to public spending as a negotiation tool. But the senator himself offered some wise choices to controlling spending, looking to find ways to save by addressing "fraud and waste" in Oregon's Medicaid system and trying to find ways to control PERS. Knopp also has served as a proud champion for OSU-Cascade as a means to bring long-term financial stability for Bend.
Rep. Jason Conger
Overall: Harvard educated, Conger is smart, but perhaps not applying himself fully—or, at least, productively.
Social Studies: F
Pro-life and a publicized supporter of Measure 36, the 2004 ballot measure constitutionally banning same-sex marriage, it is baffling that Rep. Conger represents Bend at the State House.
As in battles in Ohio and Wisconsin, Republicans in Oregon suggested that reforms to public employee retirement packages consider benefits for union members. While such limitations to union members' benefits make the progressive hairs on our neck bristle, we also understand that the pinched budget needs to find some give-and-take. The fight over PERS was split along party lines, but Rep. Conger tried to work across party lines and presented willingness to "think outside the box" to carve down the elephant in the room.
Health Class: F
Oddly, in an interview with the Oregonian Conger questioned the effectiveness of vaccines. "I don't believe the justification is there," he said, explaining his vote against a bill to make it more difficult for parents to avoid immunizations. In particular, he singled out tetanus because it isn't contagious.
And, finally, an opinion from the back of the classroom: "I would give both Jason Conger and Tim Knopp a 'C' for the 2013 legislative session. Both of our representatives failed to compromise on a revenue/PERS funding bill that would have given an additional $200 million to schools, and both voted against an education budget that would have added over a billion dollars to our schools, compared to previous years.
Of real concern were Conger's votes on our voting process. He voted against a bill that would have made it easier for Oregonians to register to vote when they get or renew their drivers' licenses. He also voted against universities and community colleges' efforts to register voters. Supporting efforts to ensure that every individual who has the right to vote gets registered is one of the most important components of our democratic process. - Laurie Gould, chair - Deschutes Democrats