With less than two weeks left for the current session of the Oregon State Legislative Assembly, there's lots going on. Legislators have passed a bill paving the way for a new police oversight board in Portland, and they've made Juneteenth an official state holiday. House Republicans have signed a letter encouraging one of their own, Rep. Mike Nearman, to resign following the release of a new video showing him appearing to plan to let rioters into the State Capitol. On Tuesday, legislators also passed a bill that makes it easier to find land to be used for affordable housing.
And while not all of this has been embraced or endorsed by every member of each party, it's at least signaling some relative harmony and ability to get things done, in a legislature that has seen multiple time-wasting walkouts over several recent sessions.
Having bills pass with bipartisan support and bipartisan votes is often a signal that the bill itself is generally supported by a majority of regular people, too—which makes another recent event in the State Capitol all the more concerning.
On May 26, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown vetoed Senate Bill 574, the motorcycle lane-splitting bill that was sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators and which passed 42-14 in the House and 18-6 in the Senate. The bill would have allowed motorcyclists to travel in between lanes of traffic when that traffic had slowed to 10 miles per hour or less and would have only allowed motorcyclists to travel 10 miles per hour faster than the rest of traffic. Advocates say it had the potential to make driving a motorcycle safer while in traffic, since it could allow motorcyclists to avoid the bumper-to-bumper traffic that can be especially dangerous. Gov. Brown vetoed it, citing safety concerns—though the bill actually would have placed tighter restrictions on motorcyclists than are placed in other states that allow lane-splitting, such as California.
While the bill was hardly one that would affect a vast majority of Oregonians' lives, it should still be concerning to many to see it vetoed, serving as a warning sign that the balance of power we have been concerned about throughout this pandemic is indeed off kilter. When a bi-partisan majority of Oregon's senators and representatives pass a bill, it should stand to reason that our governor would support it, too—especially so fast on the heels of those obstructive walkouts in recent sessions.
Seeing the work of representatives and senators representing every corner of Oregon rejected is a sign that our direct representation is out of whack. It also begs the question: If our governor is not listening to our representatives, who is she listening to?
Those who live east of the Cascade crest sometimes complain about their lives and Oregon's laws being dictated by the larger urban centers to the west. That assessment is not without merit.
Rejecting a bipartisan bill such as this one only feeds the notion that outside Portland, we don't have direct representation. If locals like us must lobby the governor's office directly to see basic rule changes made, what's the point of having our own senators and representatives?
A veto on a bill like this is a sign that we should again be concerned that the balance between our branches of government needs adjustment. If a governing body that directly represents the people passes a bill, there should be a high bar for a veto. We declare this recent veto a very low bar indeed.