Short session produces solid accomplishments

Some pleasant surprises have emerged from this year’s “Short Session” in the Oregon Legislature.

First, our legislators finished early. Wow. We complain about Salem’s penchant for overreaches, particularly about government overreaches and a preoccupation with, it seems, constantly engaging in policies that don’t help us here in rural Oregon.

But although Republican leaders complained that the short session remains “broken,” arguing that its purpose is to tweak policy, adjust budgets and respond to emergency needs, there really wasn’t as much political posturing and legislative overreach by the majority as we expected to see.

Rather, they actually focused on a much more pragmatic agenda this year, which we should all appreciate.

Instead of pushing a big “cap-and-trade” bill and universal health care ambitions, the Democratic majority opted to pass two bills aimed at transparency for high prescription drug prices and coordinated care organizations that provide government-subsidized health care to the poor.

The latter came after repeated attempts to pass that reform, which requires CCOs to provide funding for public health program and to open portions of their board meetings to the public.

They tripled real estate document recording fees – to $60 – to generate what they predict will be an additional $60 million every to years to fund affordable housing for the poor, among other moves to fund solutions to homelessness and housing issues.

They also funded a series of strategies to combat opioid abuse and mental health issues.

Their passage of a bill to strip gun rights from convicted stalkers and intimate partners convicted of abuse doesn’t have to be a harbinger of a crackdown on legitimate gun rights, but will bear attention to make sure Gov. Brown’s tendency to target law-abiding gun ownership rights doesn’t get legs.

The “boyfriend loophole” really was such, and the Legislature’s elevation of strangulation from a misdemeanor to a felony represents a step in cracking down on domestic violence.

Legislators also increased funding for the beleaguered foster care system, 25 more Oregon State Police troopers and expanded broadband in rural areas. While some might consider one or more of these as oversteps, they do address practical problems. Solutions cost money.

The Legislature passed two bills that will send an estimated $140 million in repatriated money, enough to make a dent in the state’s Public Employees Retirement System unfunded liability.

Lawmakers say they fixed a “quirk” that will turn an estimated $100 million loss into a $140 million revenue gain.

A more low-profile bill, but one sponsored by our local Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, ensured that families can continue to access a cemetery plot that they own, regardless of the status of the cemetery’s operating license.

Sprenger said that previously, cemeteries with an invalid license have been prohibited from interring a deceased person, even if a cemetery plot had been purchased and designated years in advance. Her bill received unanimous votes in both houses.

Legislators, who seem to be constantly looking to gouge Oregon’s businesses for money to fund their ambitions, did take one from S-corporation small businesses and limited-liability companies, eliminating a federal deduction on state tax returns that will disallow “pass-through” income on business owners’ personal income taxes. Whether or not Gov. Brown chooses to veto that one remains to be seen.

Yeah, it was a mixed bag. But it’s good to see our lawmakers actually working together and, amazingly, getting business done early.