- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - With expanded Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, Oregon lawmakers return to Salem on Monday for a five-month legislative session.

But the session also begins with a dark cloud hanging over Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has been forced to once again answer ethics questions about the work of his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. He said Friday that she would have no further role in his administration following reports that she may not have reported her income from a green-energy organization on her taxes.

Democrats plan to move forward immediately with some of their most disputed initiatives that were tripped up in previous years. On the agenda for the very first day are hearings on the low-carbon fuel standard and a measure affecting class-action lawsuits.

Here’s a look at five of the issues that will dominate the debate during the 2015 session.



The business community, labor unions, legislative leadership and Kitzhaber have all spoken enthusiastically about a big package of transportation projects. But paying for them will be a challenge, likely including a gas tax, vehicle-license fee or both. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, has said a transportation package would need strong, bipartisan support if it’s to avoid getting referred to the ballot. But raising taxes is never an easy vote for politicians, even if it’s for something popular like road construction.



On the first day of session, environmentalists and oil companies will square off over legislation aimed at reducing climate change. A top priority for Kitzhaber, the low-carbon fuel standard requires fuel producers to reduce the lifetime carbon emissions of their products. The program was initially approved in 2009 by lawmakers hoping to spark demand for cleaner fuels. But it has never been implemented and is due to expire at the end of the year. Critics warn that it would raise gas prices. Proponents say they can build protections into the program to minimize increases.



Voters chose overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana for recreational use, leaving it up to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to iron out the details of how to grow, track and sell it. But the Legislature is likely to weigh on important questions as well. Among them: How should it integrate with the medical marijuana program? Should local jurisdictions be allowed to tax the drug or prohibit marijuana stores within their borders?



Proposed gun-control measures have hit a roadblock in the Senate the past four years, but with more Democrats there, this year could be different. Gun-control advocates want to require background checks on private firearm sales, except between relatives. There also could be a debate over whether adults should face charges if a child has access to an unsecured gun.



The minimum wage, a paid-leave mandate and retirement savings options are all expected to get a vigorous debate, in some cases pitting labor unions against business groups. Various groups on the left want to raise Oregon’s hourly minimum to from $9.25 to $15, saying it would help people out of poverty, and require employers to provide paid sick leave for workers. Portland and Eugene already have such mandates, but apply only to workers within the city limits. Democratic Treasurer Ted Wheeler is also pushing to create a state-sponsored program to help workers save for retirement.


Follow AP writer Jonathan J. Cooper at https://twitter.com/jjcooper

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