- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - As lawmakers push closer to the July 11 deadline to adjourn, the pace of activity is picking up precipitously.

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TRANSPORTATION

Senate leaders, backed by Gov. Kate Brown, unveiled a plan raising gas taxes to pay for road and bridge construction. It would have repealed a carbon-reduction program that Republicans oppose, replacing it with alternative efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

It quickly flopped, with Brown announcing “there simply isn’t a path forward.”

Environmental groups worked vigorously to oppose it, warning proposed anti-carbon initiatives wouldn’t reduce pollution as much as promised. They were backed up by Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matt Garrett’s statement during a committee hearing that the department had inadvertently overestimated the carbon savings.

Lawmakers from both parties say that although they still want to pass a transportation funding plan, they have fallen along party lines about whether it should be coupled with a repeal of the carbon-reduction mandate. Republicans insist it should. Democrats, Brown included, say otherwise.

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MARIJUANA

After struggling for months to find common ground, lawmakers pushed forward a series of bills setting up regulations for Oregon’s new legal marijuana industry.

While possession and use of marijuana becomes legal for adults next week, the ballot measure that authorized it didn’t allow sales to begin until late in 2016. A legislative committee decided unanimously to allow temporary sales through existing medical marijuana dispensaries, saying it would be better to have people buying pot through legal channels.

The House voted to create a 17-percent sales tax for marijuana, with an option for local governments to tack on an additional 3 percent. The sales tax would replace a tax on growers that marijuana businesses said would be difficult to enforce.

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STANDARDIZED TESTS

Brown signed a bill making it easier for parents to opt their children out of standardized tests despite a warning from federal officials that Oregon would jeopardize millions in education funding.

Brown said it’s important for teachers to be sure parents understand the value of tests and the consequences of opting out. The bill allows parents to opt their children out of state testing for any reason, ending a policy that allowed exemptions only for religious reasons or a disability.

Testing critics say assessments waste class time and are stressful for some students. Advocates for education reform opposed the bill, saying testing is an important way to measure progress and raise standards.

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IMMIGRATION

Some Oregon students living in the U.S. without legal permission could qualify for state financial aid under a measure advanced by the state Senate. Portland Democratic Sen. Michael Dembrow, the bill’s sponsor, said it creates a path to college for students who are already part of the state’s education system. Opponents have argued the grant program is already underfunded and doesn’t meet the needs of resident students.

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