SALEM — A special session of the Oregon Legislature stalled today after getting off to a slow start Monday as Gov. John Kitzhaber and legislative leaders tried to nail down details and line up votes.
By late afternoon, the Legislature had made no progress toward advancing a package of bills tackling pensions, taxes and the regulation of genetically modified crops.
The House showed up for a morning quorum call and didn't return to the chamber until they adjourned at the end of the day. The Senate never formally convened at all.
A committee hearing initially scheduled for 8:30 a.m. was pushed back at least five times and is now scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
Kitzhaber reached an agreement with legislative leaders on Sept. 18 and called lawmakers into session starting Monday. Kitzhaber had hoped to work out the kinks and line up votes ahead of time, but the quick time frame left several key sticking points to be bridged.
Many lawmakers were reluctant to vote so quickly on some of the measures, particularly the complicated tax and pension measures.
"There are people that really have concerns, because these are bills that have just been written," said Rep. Val Hoyle of Eugene, the Democratic leader.
In private meetings, Republicans and Democrats debated largely technical points, such as how to ensure that a tax break for small businesses doesn't become too costly and how to define which businesses should qualify.
"It's not realistic to expect a committee of 90 people to work through issues this complex" so quickly, said Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem. She said she would prefer that the issue be held for the next regular session in February.
Proponents say the changes are needed to free up money for struggling schools.
The proposed pension cuts would reduce the annual inflation increase in retirees' checks.
Under the tax changes, higher income individuals and certain businesses would face a higher tax bill. Cigarette and tobacco taxes would go up. Some low-wage workers and certain types of businesses would see a lower tax bill.
Local governments would be prohibited from regulating seeds and seed products. The measure is an attempt to supersede emerging efforts by environmentalists and organic food proponents to ban genetically modified crops at the county level in response to what they see as a lack of action by the state and federal governments.
— Associated Press