We’re off and running with the 2021 Oregon Legislative Session.
The Oregon House of Representatives had its first Floor Session on Thursday, Jan. 21st, two days after it was originally scheduled. By all accounts security was highly visible, inside and outside of the building, and signs of the times unavoidable. The exterior windows on the first floor of the Capitol are boarded up. The absence of school busses parked outside, and the absence of both eager and thoroughly annoyed school children inside, must have felt strange. Seeing the kids makes it hard not to appreciate that it is their future legislators and lobbyists alike will be arguing about soon enough. The building remains closed to the public, security forces abound, and the show must go on.
Speaker of the House, Tina Kotek (D-Portland) gaveled the session into order, turning to moderate Republican Ron Noble from McMinnville, to provide the first daily opening prayer. “Here we go”, he started. He spoke of Oregonians’ anxiety, increases in substance addiction, and domestic violence. He spoke of the need to address racial disparity and of differences in how we all view the role of government. Rep. Noble called on the House Members to put Oregonians’ needs first, to embrace their differences and varying opinions, to debate and compromise, to unite and heal. He spoke of both forgiveness and accountability, a subtle reference to the actions of both legislators and protestors who have recently crossed the line.
In early December, House Republican Rep. Nearman of Independence, was shown on Capitol video opening the exterior Capitol doors for armed, right wing protestors who proceeded to illegally enter the building. Once inside they were physically aggressive and they pepper sprayed members of the State Capitol police. We all know what happened in D.C. These are contentious times for our elected officials, many of whom have expressed outright fury and some fear over the actions of their colleagues. To ignore the racial dynamics here is to deny reality. There are racist elements in the protests in D.C., and there are racist elements in the protests in Oregon. They have continually expressed outrage and anger. Some identify themselves as militia, and they are heavily armed. On the Senate side, State Senators Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) and Dallas Heard (R-Roseburg) have each been vocal leaders of those who believe the Democrat majorities in Oregon rule as tyrants. The Capitol Club, the professional association of lobbyists to which I belong, issued a statement to all of our members acknowledging that things are very wrong when many of us don’t feel safe in the Oregon Capitol. Rep. Noble closed his prayer, which I much appreciated for its tone and content, by asking his colleagues to climb out of the mire and for divine assistance to help us all rise above the fray. There was no applause, nor any discernable reaction from the Representatives on the House floor.
The Oregon Cannabis Association also played a featured role in Day 1. Meghan Walstatter, Chair of the OCA Legislative Committee, answered the call from the new Chairman of the House General Government Committee, Rep. Marty Wilde (D-Eugene). Chair Wilde invited OCA to join other voices from the cannabis industry in providing expert testimony to the Committee during its very first gathering. Meghan was outstanding, providing an introductory education to the committee about OCA, the cannabis industry writ large, and of the need for Oregon to modernize her laws to better suit our needs. The industry stood united, and I believe it was a home-run appearance. Way to go, Meghan! Wasting no time, Friday afternoon Chair Wilde scheduled two additional public hearings of importance for OCA to take place this upcoming Tuesday at 3:15pm: HB 2416 is an OCA supported bill brought by the Resource Innovation Institute to advance energy efficiency and other green standards for a cannabis business certification program; and HB 2111 which we also support would change the name of OLCC from the ‘Oregon Liquor Control Commission’ to the ‘Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission’.
We also continue advance our work on OCA legislative priorities. We will soon submit a list of amendments SB 408, which we then be calling a Joint Cannabis Industry Omnibus Bill. At that point, the bill will include reforms to OLCC Enforcement, additional allowances for transferring cannabis and hemp, METRIC review, increased possession limits, and a work group to examine changes to allow the industry to reduce the amount of plastic we must use. We also eagerly await the release of the Cannabis Equity Act. Stay tuned!
On Friday morning, Senate President Peter Courtney initiated floor operations for the upper chamber of only 30 State Senators. It’s worth noting that Oregon’s political world is tiny. A mere 16 Senators, women and men who tie their shoes in the morning just like all of us, constitute a majority of the Oregon State Senate. Several key Senators have been in this role for well more than a decade, each amassing significant power over of the fate of nearly every bill and agency budget item that come before them. The State Senate is a place where relationships grow, change, improve and deteriorate, over years. Peter Courtney, a lawyer and professor from Salem who was born in 1943, was elected to the Oregon Legislature in 1981. He has been Senate President since 2003, the same year I first entered the Capitol as a legal intern for newly appointed State Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-South Lane and North Douglas Counties). As has been the case for each of the last several legislative sessions, many Capitol insiders expect this legislative session to be President Courtney’s last.
The Senate’s first Floor Session was brief, with Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Beaverton) offering a beautiful invocation. She spoke of the origination story of the Jewish People, of liberation from Egypt and she noted that Oregon and indeed America’s origination stories, are complex. She spoke of equal justice under the law, the power of hope, and of the power that lies in each and every one of us. After the first Senate bills were read by the clerk, the Senate adjourned and now stands in recess until February 4th. Meanwhile, legislative committees will continue to have public hearings on key bills through Microsoft Teams.
So here we go. I hope you will stay tuned over the weeks ahead. We have much work to do.