Oregon Legislature approves budget, adjourns
SALEM, Ore. (AP) The state Legislature voted Friday to approve funding for cancer research facilities at Oregon Health & Science University, got the budget back in balance and then adjourned the 2014 session.
The Senate voted to let local governments temporarily ban medical marijuana stores, sending the bill to Gov. John Kitzhaber. The House sent the governor a measure allowing the general public to hire home-care workers from a list of unionized aides who serve people with publicly funded care.
But the five-week legislative session was particularly notable for what didn't happen. Controversial bills on guns, liquor and marijuana got plenty of attention but not much action. They never reached the House or Senate floor. Nor did a proposal to replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. The Oregon Department of Transportation announced it will "begin the process of orderly archival and closeout" of project planning.
Lawmakers did ease up on a ban on Native American mascots, opening the door for some schools to keep them. They passed a handful of bills aimed at easing the pain of the failures at Cover Oregon, the state's troubled health insurance exchange, although they mostly ordered Cover Oregon to take actions it's already taking.
They also extended a telecommunications tax that funds 911 services to prepaid cellphones a goal that had vexed the Legislature for years.
With the funding approved Friday for Oregon Health & Science University, the school would get $200 million for cancer research facilities, a jump-start toward $500 million the school has agreed to raise to secure a match of the same size from Nike founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny Knight.
The departments of Corrections and Human Services got additional money to help them manage higher-than-expected costs.
"We delivered for Oregonians," House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said in a statement. "We balanced the budget, we took steps to support workers and create jobs, and we made additional investments in education and other programs that matter most to Oregonians."
Some of the highest-profile issues never gained steam, however.
With activists angling for a statewide vote on marijuana legalization and grocers pushing to privatize the state's liquor agency, some lawmakers had hoped the Legislature could intervene, writing rules they view as more balanced than initiatives written by interested parties.
A Senate committee considered a bill that would require background checks in private gun sales. It couldn't get to the full Senate, however, despite a visit from Mark Kelly, husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived being shot in the head in 2011 during a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz.
Sen. Floyd Prozanki, the Eugene Democrat who sponsored the bill, said he'd try again next year. Democrats are hoping to pick up more seats in the 2014 election.
"Clearly, I'd like to limit easy access to guns for felons," he said.
Even an idea that started with widespread support, banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, fell apart. Lawmakers disagreed about whether they should also ban the use of so-called e-cigarettes in public buildings and workplaces.
Democrats fell one vote short in their effort to use unclaimed judgments in class-action lawsuits to fund legal assistance for the poor. They also were unable to get support for a push to rewrite the ballot title on a referendum granting driving privileges to people who can't prove they're legally in the United States.
The Senate never voted on extending Oregon's clean-fuels program, which requires gasoline and diesel companies to lower the carbon emissions associated with their fuels or invest in alternative energy.
Both those measures passed the House, but they couldn't get past the more conservative Democrats in the Senate. Democrats have a 16-14 edge, but Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose often breaks from her party on contentious issues. That leads to the Senate often being a tied chamber, said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.
He said some people were hoping the situation might be different this year.
"In the end, there really wasn't movement," Courtney said of the tie. "And that's the Senate right now."
For a second consecutive year, lawmakers couldn't find consensus on a request by state Treasurer Ted Wheeler to restructure the investment division. Some lawmakers were concerned the Legislature wouldn't have enough control, and the issue was pulled from the House floor on Friday.
Republicans grumbled that Democrats charted their own course.
"Of the 33 days in the Capitol, the majority party spent 32 days playing politics," said Rep. Mike McLane of Powell Butte, the Republican leader in the House. "With less than 24 hours left, Democrats finally revealed their budget to the public and Republican legislators."
The session lasted 33 days two shy of the maximum under the state constitution. It was the second even-year session since voters decided in 2010 that lawmakers should meet annually.
Lawmakers will now turn their attention to the election campaign. All 60 House seats and half of the 30 Senate seats will be up in November. So far, very few incumbents are facing primary challenges, but potential candidates have until next week to file for office.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.