Oregon needs annual sessions
Measure 71 is a ballot initiative that provides for annual sessions of the Oregon Legislature. Under current law, the Legislature meets in regular session in only odd-numbered years. Current law also provides for special sessions at other times as required.
The Legislature voted to put the measure before the voters. The resolution that created Measure 71 was the source of heated debate in the February 2010 special session. The resolution ultimately passed along mostly party lines, with only two Senate Republicans and no House Republicans voting to support it. No Democrat opposed the resolution.
Under Measure 71, sessions would be capped at 35 days in even-numbered years, and 160 days in odd-numbered years. Lawmakers could extend sessions five days at a time by a two-thirds-majority vote.
Supporters say annual sessions will allow lawmakers to address high-profile issues that crop up between the regularly scheduled biennial sessions and address fluctuations in state revenues. Detractors say the measure is costly and redundant: Lawmakers already have a mechanism to call special sessions, they say, and the more time lawmakers spend in the Capitol, the more money it costs taxpayers.
The City Club of Portland has since the 1980s examined the question of annual sessions several times. In a 1997 report, the City Club stated that biennial sessions were "no longer adequate either to meet the needs of Oregon's increasingly complex agenda of issues or to provide citizens with adequate legislative due process."
Oregon is the largest of the five states with biennial legislative sessions. Oregon's legislators oversee a $60 billion budget.
It costs taxpayers upwards of $30,000 every day the Legislature is in session, according to public records. The special, off-year legislative sessions of recent years were within the length limits of what is outlined in Measure 71.
We recommend passage, albeit with certain reservations. The realities of modern life and politics make regular, annual sessions of the Legislature a practical necessity. Things can change a lot between biennial sessions. Current law provides for special sessions to address those circumstances, but the decision to call those sessions is too often the source of useless political grandstanding.
A vote for Measure 71 must be made with the recognition that in giving the Legislature an added opportunity to do good, voters are also handing lawmakers another opportunity to do mischief. Oregonians must also be vigilant that the passage of Measure 71 isn't the stepping stone to the creation of a full-time legislature and an attendant ineffective ruling class, such as California's.