2020 legislative session ends abruptly

The 2020 five-week legislative session has concluded — inconclusively. A minority of members boycotted meetings, demanding they be able to pick and choose which measures would be voted on. With time for responsible legislating running out, the majority leadership refused to be blackmailed and adjourned three days early. The session was particularly difficult for moderates like myself. Both sides lost. Oregon lost.

At issue was the “Cap and Trade” proposal to address climate change in Oregon. But the walk-out has now been used four times in the past year to protest school funding, vaccinations, firearm storage, climate and, in one case, because members did not want to work through a scheduled evening floor session. Awkwardly, absent members continued to be paid and even receive a daily per diem to cover costs of being in Salem.

Issues aside, we are seeing a complete breakdown in our democratic institutions. One journalist called it a “national embarrassment.”

I supported Cap and Trade. Here at the coast, we see the immediate effects of climate change in our shellfish industry, delays in the crabbing season, declining salmon runs in our warming streams, shoreline erosion and longer, hotter, more fire-vulnerable summers. We owe it to ourselves, our kids and our grandkids to take action.

At the same time, my efforts have always been to listen to all sides, seek compromise and move toward the center. I proposed or supported amendments to the carbon bill. They include specific references to the coast for disbursement of climate investments, tax reductions in communities where fuel costs are increased by the need to drive further, exemptions for fuel used in our fishing fleets, offsets to energy costs for heating or agricultural production and carve-outs for mills using best available technology. Some will disagree with this measure. I hope most will agree I made it better.

Certainly I have heard from some constituents who supported the walkout. My response is that I swore an oath to uphold the Oregon Constitution. That oath and the House Rules require me to attend. Even in these cynical times, a person’s word should mean something. And when the legislature is unable to act, more power and authority shifts to the governor and executive branch.

I also heard the argument that we should refer Cap and Trade to the voters.

I was elected to make hard decisions. That includes large, complex and controversial votes. But I also believe that when people disagree with my decisions, they have the right to circulate petitions to refer a measure for a statewide vote. For that reason, I parted with my party leaders and supported removing the emergency clause from the Cap and Trade proposal in order to allow more time for signature gathering. Unfortunately, that never happened.

In the end, Cap and Trade was more important to both sides than anything else. A number of bi-partisan proposals that were worked on for months were sacrificed. We failed to move bills and budget requests to fund:

  • State response to the coronavirus outbreak;
  • Critical support for small business;
  • Emergency shelter facilities for the homeless and affordable housing;
  • Corrections to the Corporate Activity Tax;
  • Foster care and child abuse prevention;
  • Streamlined processes for the 700 kids waiting to be adopted;
  • The “Shake Alert” earthquake early warning system;
  • Exempting agriculture from the Corporate Tax;
  • Flood recovery in Pendleton;
  • A historic forest management agreement by timber and environmental organizations;
  • Support for small schools and higher education.

With so much at stake, we will likely be called back in special session to complete essential business. That will cost more time and more money. Already I have returned to Salem for the Emergency Board, which will fund coronavirus response and flooding in Umatilla County.

I will continue to work for the people of our district. I believe in Oregon and the Oregon way. I remain hopeful for our future. But it has been a difficult five weeks in Salem.

David Gomberg is the state representative for Oregon House District 10.


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