After months of stalled budgets, bland bills and making nicey-nice, the sleeping dinosaur that is the state Legislature woke with a foul-breathed yawn last week.
The Capitol is on an accelerated pace as lawmakers work out the state's next two-year budget. With most committees shut down, those still working held hearings with as little as a half-hour notice. Bills were changed on the fly, as lawmakers and lobbyists desperately tried to beat the gavel. Floor sessions went on into the night.
It was a week of dealing, scheming, lying, grandstanding--in short, the most fun the Capitol has been all session. Here's a recap:
MONDAY, JUNE 4:
House Bill 2010, the pet project of lobbyist John DiLorenzo, hits the House floor. This bill, fiercely opposed by the city of Portland and Multnomah County, would give property-tax cuts to landowners along the Willamette River Superfund site and pool the cash to pay for cleanup. That's money out of the city and county budgets. It spurs an hours-long debate and a string of procedural parries before passing 31-29.
The drama, however, isn't over. Senate Bill 608, which would require that all insurance policies cover prescription birth control, is up for a House vote. Democrats and moderate Republicans have been assured there are enough GOP votes to pass the bill. But at the last minute, Republican leaders call a caucus meeting and cut a deal with the right-wingers: They'll send the birth-control bill back to the Ways and Means Committee to die, but only if the anti-abortion "informed consent" bill joins it. Dems get word of the plot and try to stall the vote by disappearing, denying the GOP a quorum. The state police are summoned to bring the rebels back to chamber (no, we're not making this up!). Some escape in their cars. Others aren't so lucky. Charlie Ringo is nabbed hiding behind fellow Beaverton Rep. Mark Hass' office door. Hass escapes detection under his desk. Eventually, enough Democrats are rounded up to make a quorum and the bills are sent to their death.
Meanwhile, on the Senate side of the building, Team Oregon (stocked with a roster of switch-hitting lobbyists such as Larry Campbell, Alan Tressider, Brad Higbee and Marshall Coba) work to get the green light from Senate President Gene Derfler on a bill to provide state funding for a professional baseball stadium in Portland.
TUESDAY, JUNE 5:
The morning starts with a partisan explosion. Rep. Jan Lee, a Republican from Clackamas County, pulls a Jeffords, leaving the party after the birth-control sabotage of the night before (see Buzz, page 12). She indicates she will probably run as a Democrat in the 2002 election for her seat. "Hell, we're bipartisan," quips Tigard Republican Max Williams. "We gave them one of our members today."
The building is also abuzz over a letter distributed by Rep. Wayne Krieger (R-Gold Beach) describing one man's "fantasy" of a Colorado lawmaker who is tarred and feathered after pushing for gun-control legislation. Sen. Ginny Burdick, the obvious target of the memo, stews on the House floor waiting for Krieger's public apology (see Rogue, page 10).
Meanwhile, the Senate passes SB963, which would move $106 million in federal Medicaid money out of the general fund, reducing the total pot of state money and reducing the kicker. It's a bill that both sides mostly agree should pass, but things turn rancorous as eight Democrats vote against it to thwart future campaign hit pieces painting the Dems as the party that tried to keep the kicker.
Meanwhile, Team Oregon works on Senate President Derfler.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6:
The "kumbaya" session officially ends as House Republicans push their plan for changing the legislative district boundaries based on the 2000 census through the Rules committee, sending it to the House floor. Jan Lee's district is eliminated in the proposal.
During the House session that afternoon, Hass attempts a parliamentary move to force a floor vote on his dead campaign-finance reform package. But Republicans quickly scuttle any debate. "It's clear," Hass says from the floor, "that no one in leadership wants to talk about dirty campaign money. It may be that's how you get to leadership." Republicans take to their microphones in outraged protest. The move fails.
Meanwhile, Team Oregon works on Sen. Derfler.
THURSDAY, JUNE 8:
The Senate narrowly passes SB764, which would extend the pollution tax credit for businesses, over environmentalists' protests. Senate Minority Leader Kate Brown monitors the vote closely because it has become a bargaining chip in the "end game" of the session. That night, after long caucus meetings, the House concurs with the Senate and passes SB963, the Medicaid diversion measure. Things get tense when 16 Republicans vote against the bill, but majority leader Karen Minnis cajoles 15 Democrats into the "yea" camp.
Meanwhile, Team Oregon works on Derfler.
FRIDAY, JUNE 9:
Too tired for parlor games in the chambers, lawmakers head behind closed doors. Gov. John Kitzhaber continues to pull members into his office to seal the deals that will end the session. It's now clear that no one is going home unless he gets his plan to reduce pharmaceutical costs for the Oregon Health Plan. Rumors fly about what GOP bills he will be willing to sign in order to get it: the pollution tax credit, the capital-gains tax decrease, the bill to preempt local smoking bans, and DiLorenzo's Superfund cleanup bill.
Portland Mayor Vera Katz spends her morning in the building lobbying against the DiLorenzo plan. DiLo plants a rumor that the governor has refused to promise her a veto. City of Portland lobbyist Marge Kafoury flies into the press room to squelch it. "The mayor did not meet with the governor," she insists. Later that day, the governor backs Kafoury by issuing a letter of concern that basically declares the Superfund bill dead when it hits his desk.
Meanwhile, Team O works Derfler.