Legislative reruns: These Oregon bills are back for debate in short session

Gov. Kate Brown gives her State of the State speech in the House Chamber of the Capitol in Salem, Oregon on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Lawmakers convened their 35-day legislative session Monday. (KATU Photo)

The clock started running Monday on this year’s short 35-day legislative session at the Capitol in Salem.

There is a small mountain of bills lawmakers are considering this month, and some of them that were introduced during last year’s session and died have been given new life this year.

Here are some of the main ones that lawmakers will be reconsidering.

National popular vote:

The proponents of creating a compact of states that agree to allocate their electoral votes in a presidential election to the winner of the national popular vote accused Senate President Peter Courtney, a Salem Democrat, of consistently killing the measure by never allowing it on the Senate floor for a vote.

Last year's bills in the Senate and the House relating to the issue never made it out of their committees.

This year Courtney says he’ll support Senate Bill 1512, because it contains a provision that the measure should go before the people for a vote in November.

“If you believe in the popular vote, then let the popular vote decide the issue,” he said.

Tax returns for vice presidential and presidential candidates:

As a presidential candidate Donald Trump never released his tax returns, which is something that presidential candidates have voluntarily done since the 1970s. And as president, Trump still hasn’t released his returns.

Several states in these United States, including Oregon, have bills in their legislatures that would require candidates for vice president and president to make public certain tax-related information before they could appear on the ballot. Bills in Oregon last year would have required candidates to release five years of federal tax returns.

Supporters say it’s in the public interest to see a candidate’s tax information.

Some people have raised constitutional concerns. They say the U.S. Constitution makes it clear what the requirements are to run for president and making tax returns public isn’t one of them.

This year's bill is Senate Bill 1511.

Pass a civics test or don’t graduate:

Discouraged by the lack of knowledge citizens have about their government, a few Oregon lawmakers last year tried to rectify the problem with bills to get schools to up their game on civics education.

Last year, Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, introduced Senate Bill 1038. If it would have been approved, it would have required students to pass a civics test before they could graduate high school.

This year, Senate Bill 1513 effectively does the same thing. Students would be required to correctly answer at least 60 percent of the questions on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ civics test on naturalization.

During a public hearing on last year’s bill, Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, expressed concern that such a requirement would disadvantage students with disabilities or English language learners.

Oil trains:

An oil train safety bill got stopped in its tracks last year after environmental groups complained that it got watered down to more align with the railroad industry's interests.

Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, introduced House Bill 2131 after a Union Pacific train derailed in the Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier, Oregon in June 2016 and caught fire.

The bill directed the Environmental Quality Commission to adopt rules that would have required railroads to provide oil spill prevention and emergency response plans to the state. Railroads would also have been required to carry enough insurance to cover an oil spill.

Smith Warner has introduced a similar bill this year: House Bill 4004.

Greenhouse gas emissions:

Last year Senate Bill 1070 was introduced near the end of the legislative session. It would have set up a program that would have capped the amount of statewide greenhouse gas emissions. The largest emitters in the state would have been required to buy and sell “allowances” in auctions.

The bill didn’t advance, but lawmakers continued working on it in the interim and have produced two similar bills for this year. Senate Bill 1507 and House Bill 4001.

But there has been pushback. Republican lawmakers say this year’s short 35-day session isn’t enough time to deal with such a complicated bill. And even Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat, has expressed concern with moving big bills during this year’s legislative session.

It’s unclear right now how far these climate bills will get this session.

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