Sen. President Gene Derfler (R-Salem) sent a thrill through the Capitol last week by spreading the word that he planned to drop the gavel and end the session by June 15. That will be a nice trick, considering that the legislative redistricting plan isn't due until June 30, none of the agency budgets have been finalized and the House floor docket is backed up. Skeptics say no way.
* Bad news for Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic and atheist lawmakers (i.e., the Democratic Caucus): Prior to his opening House invocation May 10, Dr. Daniel Pulliam, pastor of the First Baptist Church of St. Johns, informed representatives that it's impossible to rightfully govern without the help of a Christian God. See his speech and get salvation at www.wweek.com/flatfiles/slotxtra.html.
* Tasteless lobbyist joke of the week: "If you combine the anti-bestiality bill and the proposal to amend the cougar-hunting law into a single piece of legislation, it could be called the 'Don't fuck with the cougars law.'
* Sometimes a coalition collides. Seems that ultra-conservative Rep. Betsy Close (R-Albany) is raising a ruckus in the House legislative work group that's trying to hammer out a compromise on Measure 7. Close is reportedly feeling that she's been out of the loop and isn't happy with the current proposal. She's stormed out of a committee meeting, and last week she and fellow Republican Rep. Max Williams, chairman of the measure work group, were openly spatting on the House floor. quotable
"I only hope that the arguments they offer you in explaining this to your constituents are more substantive, better reasoned and more factually justifiable than the mound of excrement they have offered you in the May 20 letter."
--Rep. Max Williams (R-Tigard) on the House floor last Wednesday, critiquing correspondence from opponents of a bill that would ban bestiality and raising game cocks. give a damn
Kicker for Dummies: If you've been baffled or bored with all the budget stories recently, here's the deal in a bite-sized bit. The state has a big pot of money, most of it collected from income taxes. Way before the session starts, state revenue shamen predict how much money will be collected. If their estimates are too low, the extra cash goes back to the voters as a "kicker" check. That's what happened this session. But times are tight, and lawmakers trying to find money for seniors and kids are currently debating two methods to keep some of the money. Both would reduce state revenue and thereby reduce the kicker: (1) Don't count dollars we get from the federal government, because it isn't income tax; (2) Pay now, not in the next budget year, $111 million that has been owed to federal retirees. Some see these options as accounting trickery. Others see them as a way to help those who need it most. Give a damn and tell your local representative what you think about this and other issues.
* DNA De Nada: Last week saw progress on the genetic privacy front. With a stamp of approval from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Senate passed SB114, which eliminates Oregon's unique provision saying that citizens own their DNA. Under the bill, a patient's genetic material could not be used or disclosed without permission. The bill, which is headed to the House, implements fines of up to $250,000 and provides a means for criminal penalties.
* More Fun with Genetics: Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Merkley (D-Portland) has made enough concessions to the life-insurance lobbyists to advance HB2267, a bill to stop genetic discrimination in the industry. It's headed for a vote of the full House next week.
* Grabbing Asphalt: Speed bumps? What speed bumps? AAA lobbyist Craig Campbell was grinning like the Cheshire Cat last Wednesday after the House Transportation Committee passed out the first major transportation bill in Oregon in a decade. The bill increases auto-title transfer fees from $10 to $30 and boosts truck fees up to $90. It would earmark the resulting $400 million for road and bridge improvement. At press time, the road to a House vote seemed smooth, given that Campbell and transportation chairman Rep. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) avoided the nasty pothole of a gas tax.
* Buying Votes: Prospects are dimming for Rep. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) to pass his campaign-finance reform package. After stringing him along all session, Republican leaders finally admitted last week that they were not letting the bill advance. Lobbyist John DiLorenzo says he can beat activist Lloyd Marbet's similar ballot initiative in court, reducing pressure on lawmakers to pass a preemptive strike.
* Baby X: Senate Bill 199 passed easily out of the House Judiciary Committee and is headed to a full vote of the body. During testimony on the bill, however, an interesting question was raised. Oregon law currently requires that the state Department of Human Resources conduct a "diligent" search for all missing parents before parental rights are terminated. SB199 doesn't overturn that law. That means that unless the bill is amended, any woman who leaves her baby anonymously won't be arrested for abandonment--but she will be hunted.
* Mucky Waters: House Bill 2010, which would divert money from county and city property taxes in order to pay for the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup, is being carried to the House floor next week for a vote by Speaker Mark Simmons' own self. Attached to the bill will be a minority report (i.e., an alternate bill) filed by Democratic Rep. Mark Hass, which would implement part of Oregon Environmental Council's Willamette River cleanup plan. Among other things, the plan would require the most hazardous substances being dumped into the river to be pinpointed. The OEC bills didn't even get hearings in the anti-enviro Legislature; by attaching the minority report, Hass will force lawmakers to take a vote either for or against cleaning up the river.
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