They're done: Oregon Legislature adjourns 2015 session – OregonLive.com
SALEM — Months after starting work amid the frenzy of a governor’s office scandal and days after giving up hope on a transportation deal that had been seen as a linchpin for this year’s session, the Oregon Legislature quietly adjourned late Monday.
The House and Senate came back to the Capitol after a shortened July Fourth weekend, hoping to rip through one last stack of key budget bills, first publicly aired Friday. Taken together, that legislation dictates millions of dollars in state spending and more than $1 billion in planned borrowing.
By 6:05 p.m. Monday, with lawmakers giddy at the prospect of going home after a long five months, the last gavels fell. It was finally over.
The House, with some tension, sent the Senate several closely watched bonding bills that include cash for sidewalks in outer Southeast Portland, affordable housing construction sought by Gov. Kate Brown, and seismic improvements in schools statewide. The Senate then sent them to Brown a few hours later.
Lawmakers also sent Brown what’s popularly known as the session’s “Christmas tree” bill, legislation that lays out plans for millions in surplus dollars and other unallocated operating funds — money that’s sometimes used to dispense political favors. But that approval came with questions from Republicans and concerns about the scant amount of time allotted to review legislation with so much money at stake.
The pace toward adjournment Monday was threatened only briefly, after Senate Republicans seized on legislation that would have laid down guidelines for how to spend Brown’s request for affordable housing, House Bill 2198.
To move that bill in time to finish on schedule, Democrats needed Republicans’ permission to waive procedural rules that otherwise would have required a final vote this Wednesday. Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, said the Republicans had offered to trade that waiver for a last-ditch deal that included new tax breaks for widows of fallen police officers and firefighters.
Instead, Senate and House Democrats conferred and decided to punt the legislation to the February 2016 session, if it comes back at all. Ditching HB 2198 won’t affect how much the state can spend, about $40 million, or when. The guidelines in HB 2198 were mostly put forward to reassure lawmakers who’d been unsure about approving the housing money.
The House and Senate also finished hacking through a thicket of policy bills that moved over the session’s final few days, covering long-watched subjects ranging from marijuana legalization to vaccinations to campaign finance reform and speed limits.
The final gavels ended a session with more than its share of drama. Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned in the opening weeks and was replaced with Brown, and a hoped-for transportation package imploded last month amid Democrats’ infighting.
On Monday, legislators approved a final marijuana bill that allows people under 21 to more quickly expunge pot offenses from their record and that eases the definitions for acquiring a medical marijuana card.
Senate Bill 844 also establishes a research program into the health benefits of marijuana and allows patients in hospice care and similar situations to get medical marijuana from caregivers.
Under the bill, people who committed marijuana offenses when they were under 21 could get them expunged in a year if they had no additional offenses.
The measure also expands the qualifications for a medical marijuana card to include “a degenerative or pervasive neurological condition.”
Anthony Johnson, who led the initiative campaign to legalize marijuana, said it could open the door to use by those with such diseases as Parkinson’s or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). The measure also makes it easier to obtain medical marijuana for those whose symptoms relate to Alzheimer’s but who have not been formally diagnosed with the disease.
In a surprise move Monday, the Senate rejected a two-year moratorium on most hemp production in Oregon. House Bill 2668 was voted down 19-11 after critics said the Department of Agriculture should be left to work out hemp farming issues on its own.
The bill would have required the department to revoke more than a dozen hemp farming permits issued this year and grant them anew only to farms that can meet more stringent requirements. Its failure means a controversial hemp farm in Josephine County can continue to operate.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, to require school districts to report immunization rates passed the House late last week. It followed an earlier bill this session that would have done away with non-medical vaccine exemptions. Steiner Hayward abandoned the earlier effort after fervent opposition from anti-vaccine advocates.
Lawmakers also approved a campaign finance task force for the interim session, sending Brown legislation in the form of House Bill 2178 that fell far short of the proposed constitutional amendment and spending limits the governor had personally lobbied lawmakers to approve this session.
Other bills in recent days created special tax-exempt savings accounts for people with disabilities; expanded student aid to undocumented students who were brought to Oregon as children by their parents; created a new LGBT liaison for the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs; and gave Portland the go-ahead to set up photo radar traps on certain busy streets.
— Ian K. Kullgren and Denis C. Theriault
Jeff Mapes contributed to this report.