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Legislative Assembly enjoys pomp before tackling state circumstances

Gov. Kate Brown

Oregon’s 79th Legislative Assembly began its work this week in Salem with the usual pomp and circumstance, but there were also nods to the serious and tough work ahead.

Speaking to a joint session of the Legislature, Gov. Kate Brown called for a spirit of bipartisanship for the upcoming session, calling on Oregon lawmakers to set aside their differences to work together to tackle Oregon’s $1.7 billion revenue shortfall.

“We have to come together and know that we are all on the same side,” Brown said. She also said Oregonians should refrain from attacks on civil rights.

“We must guard against prejudice based on race, ethnicity, religion or belief,” Brown said to applause. “We must not allow the rights of any one person or class of people to be degraded in any way. We must stand for our veterans. We must defend the rights of LGBTQ Oregonians.”

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  Rep. Tina Kotek

Rep. Tina Kotek, who was elected speaker of the House for the third time, struck a similar chord in her opening remarks for the session.

Focusing on equity, Kotek (D-Portland), began by acknowledging that policymakers disagree about the specifics of any given initiative.

“I believe,” Kotek said, “that underneath those disagreements, driving us forward and uniting us in this work, is the shared belief that every Oregonian deserves equal justice, equal opportunity and equal dignity.”

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Sen. Peter Courtney  
 
Senate President Peter Courtney took a lower-key approach to his remarks, after being elected to a record-setting eighth term as Senate president. Courtney (D-Salem)marveled that all 30 senators were present on the Senate floor despite weather that prevented the Portland State Chamber Choir from performing.

Although Brown, Kotek and Courtney refrained from outlining specific policy positions during their individual remarks, many issues were alluded to. Revenue reform, PERS reform, housing legislation, education funding, the high school graduation rate, firearms legislation, health care subsidies, and a potential transportation package were all mentioned. Brown cited the desire to keep moving forward on a variety of issues.

“We got stuff done during the 2016 short session,” she said. “We raised the minimum wage, … responded to the tragedy at Umpqua Community College, … upheld the tradition of leading on environmental stewardship. … Under my leadership, we will continue to move Oregon forward.”

In her speech, Brown also took time to commend the service to Oregon of state Rep. Vic Gilliam (R-Silverton), who has continued his work as a state representative despite his battle with ALS and the need to use a wheelchair.

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Rep. Vic Gilliam
 
   
   

In addition to its opening session ceremonies, the Legislature introduced more than 1,500 bills in its first days of action. Many of these bills will affect public schools. The OSBA Legislative Services team has reviewed all bills and is tracking more than 200 out of this first-introduced series. Contact OSBA Interim Legislative Director Lori Sattenspiel (lsattenspiel@osba.org) with any questions about the bills.

As has been the practice for several sessions, the Legislature only met in its “organizational session” for three days and has adjourned until Feb. 1. At that time, the Legislature will begin in earnest and should wrap up its work in late June or early July.

The House of Representatives swore in all 60 members, including 10 new members. The Senate swore in four new members.

Brown was sworn in for her first term as Oregon’s elected governor. Previously, she had been completing the term of office following Gov. John Kitzhaber’s resignation on Feb. 18, 2015. Her recent election means that she will serve two more years, until the next gubernatorial election in 2018.