Lawmakers lose sight of goal

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press


Sam Brentano, a Marion County, Ore., commissioner, shook his head.

"I think having the Legislature meet every year was a bad idea," he said to a casual acquaintance. His comment was not the beginnings of a rant against government. He's been in government for decades, as a mayor and a county commissioner.

Instead, he was talking about the amount of attention that must be paid to the Oregon Legislature when it is in session.

"Man, it's a full-time job" keeping up with the issues, he said.

The Oregon Legislature used to meet every other year. This allowed the public and county, municipal and school leaders to make two-year plans based on what the Legislature did.

"Now we can't plan for more than a year at a time," Brentano said.

He's not alone in his views.

Whenever the Legislature meets, farmers and ranchers see issues related to agriculture flying through the halls of the Capitol. They have to pay close attention just to keep from getting blindsided.

This year, there seems to be no limit to the willingness of some legislators to tell farmers how to do their jobs and live their lives.

Proposals this session include a ground-breaking bit of legislation forbidding the feeding of raccoons. Called the Rocky Raccoon Bill, it actually passed the Senate. The fact the someone felt the need to address the overarching need to regulate raccoon feeding is a signal that legislators may just have too much time on their hands.

Another legislative masterpiece specifies that anyone who ties up a dog must provide at least 15 feet of rope and assure that the dog cannot get tangled up.

Alrighty then, now that we've got those two burning issues under control, we can talk about balancing the budget and paying for schools, health care, police and other public services.

Nope. Still other legislators have proposed that county officials regulate pesticides and genetically modified crops -- there are two more jobs for Brentano and his fellow county commissioners.

The proposals might as well have the logos of various activist groups on them. It appears some legislators just want to make points with those groups so they can get their support during the next re-election campaign.

Other states' legislatures appear to be less prone to micromanaging agriculture, but only slightly.

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have required a homeowner to get state permission to evict a bat from a house.

In Washington state, one proposal would have directed Washington State University to research hemp, even though it's illegal to grow without a special permit from the district attorney.

And the "I Hate GMOs" groups have been visiting the Washington, Oregon and Idaho capitols this year, hoping to get help passing their proposals to label food that has genetically modified ingredients. No legislative leaders seem particularly interested in getting into that business but some in the back rows are intent on pushing the proposals.

Now that the worst of the financial crisis has passed, some members of the state legislatures have lost their focus. Instead of keeping their eye on the ball -- the budget -- legislators are starting to exercise their creativity. That's how we end up with bills about raccoons, dog leashes and hemp.

A New York judge, Gideon J. Tucker, wrote in a 1866 ruling that "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."

Some 147 years later, that's still the case. Maybe it's time for the Oregon Legislature to lead the way back to meeting every other year.

Or pass the budget and just go home now.

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