When the state Legislature reconvenes on Feb. 4, Republicans hope to tackle a range of issues, including tying driver's license eligibility to drivers' status and devoting more money to looking at the state's land use laws.
The House and Senate Republicans' policy agenda also includes plans to restore funding for senior home care, give Eastern Oregon farmers more Columbia River irrigation water and create a new office to audit government spending and state agency performance.
State Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, questioned why his caucus is proposing such a long list of proposals that have little chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Legislature given the short special session.
"The only thing that we should be doing in my opinion is taking care of any financial crisis we have or any real pending crises," Esquivel said in an interview last week. "Most of this stuff is going to have to wait until the '09 session when we have time to get some good input from the public and get the wrinkles ironed out."
The Democratic leadership has no plans to delve into deep policy initiatives during the 2008 Supplemental Legislative Session, but instead will focus on a "short and specific" policy agenda, said House Majority Whip Peter Buckley of Ashland.
Buckley, a senior member of the House Democratic leadership team, said his caucus has not yet released its official to-do list, but noted that it is unlikely that "earth-shattering" legislation would emerge. In addition to pressing budget adjustments, bills that have bipartisan support would likely be considered during the micro-session, Buckley said.
Like Esquivel, he said there is no time in the 26-day session to address the state's land-use laws in any meaningful way, but said Democrats share the Republicans' desire to have the Land Use Task Force, also known as the "Big Look Commission," reinvigorated.
According to Buckley, among issues likely to be considered during the one-month session: measures aimed at easing counties' cash crunch in the absence of federal timber subsidies, aid to homeowners affected by the subprime mortgage crisis and increasing funding for the Oregon State Police, which both parties agree are a priority.
The State Police, which lacks funding to provide 24/7 coverage of the state's highways, has seen its ranks eroded by years of budget cuts. In 1976, the last year Oregon's gasoline tax directly funded the state police, there were 660 troopers, 40 of whom patrolled Jackson County. Today, only 11 state troopers patrol Jackson County, and the agency has a local presence of 20 hours a day.
During the 2007 Legislature, Esquivel introduced a bill that would have imposed a nickel-a-beer tax to give the Oregon State Police a dedicated funding source so the agency can resume around-the-clock patrols but the proposal foundered amid a lack of interest among Democrats and GOP objections to approving any tax increases.
This time, Esquivel said he has a better idea: one that his fellow Republicans could support. He wants to funnel to the State Police Patrol Division the $140 million in fees that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission collects each two-year budget cycle so the department can hire more troopers.
"The good part about this is that if we set this up correctly, for legislators to take the money from the State Police, which they have been doing for 35 years, what they'll have to do is pass a bill through the House, through the Senate and have it signed by the governor before they can touch their money," Esquivel said.
Buckley, meanwhile, has said that Democrats will likely push to take $4.5 million from the two-year budget cycle's ending balance to pay for the additional 39 troopers that the department needs in order to provide 24-hour service throughout the state until lawmakers meet for their regular 2009 session.
Also like Republicans, Buckley, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he would like to see the Legislature reconsider a proposal brought forth by the Chalkboard Project that would have funded ongoing professional development for public school K-12 teachers and administrators.
The proposal, which stalled in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, would have created so-called "centers of excellence" aimed at giving every school district in the state access to the latest and cutting-edge teacher trainings, Buckley said.
"The price tag is what raised eyebrows on the Senate side," Buckley said. "We're going to look at new ways to get this through. We just need to make sure that this is a sustainable program."
covers the state Legislature for the Daily Tidings. He can be reached at email@example.com.
GOP armed with long schedule