- Associated Press - Saturday, February 27, 2016

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The clock is ticking on the Oregon Legislature’s rapid-fire session, and the backlog of bills keeps racking up in the Senate as the GOP minority remains committed to slowing down the Democrats’ agenda through various maneuvers.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the biggest issues that will likely make it through, what could fail and one unknown as lawmakers head into the final week of the session that must end by March 6.


__The Budget: Signaling the nearing end of the session, a joint ways and means committee Thursday sent several budget-adjusting bills to both chambers for votes. Those are now the Legislature’s utmost priority in its final week. The bills adjust the state’s total spending for the current 2015-17 biennium by roughly $93 million across a broad spectrum of agencies and services, including about $8 million total for the unexpected costs of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge armed occupation and last year’s Umpqua Community College mass shooting.

__”Coal To Clean”: A proposal to phase out coal-fired energy supplied by Oregon’s two largest utilities and double the state’s existing renewable energy standards is one of the last big policy changes still pending. House Bill 4036 passed the House last week, but stalled in the Senate due to Republican opposition. Democrats used their own maneuvers on Thursday to keep the bill’s momentum going by adding the language of HB 4036 to Senate Bill 1547, which already advanced to the House. It now heads to the House floor for a vote, then the Senate, which still has the final say.

__Housing: Four bills are advancing through both chambers that address Oregon’s housing crisis - among the biggest policy agendas of the session being spearheaded by House Speaker Tina Kotek - through bans on sudden rent hikes for some renters and allowing mandates on affordable housing, among others. Two of those bills are nearing a final vote, while the other two still remain in their initial chambers.


__Gun Control: HB 4147 began as a proposal to close the so-called “Charleston loophole” by requiring pending background checks to clear before an individual can purchase a gun, however long it took. After testimony from gun-rights advocates, the bill was scaled back to instead extend from three to 10 days the current waiting period on gun purchases when background checks are pending. The scaled-back version squeaked by the House in a 31-28 vote on Monday, but has since remained stuck in committee in the Senate, which is already facing a growing backlog of bills as Republicans dig in their heels with stalling techniques.

__Liquor Privatization: A ballot measure potentially headed for the November election would end Oregon’s Prohibition-era monopoly on the liquor industry, allowing consumers to buy liquor at grocery stores and other outlets that already sell beer and wine. The initiative does not, however, outline another way for Oregon to continue making money off liquor sales, which are currently allowed only at state-run shops. House Bill 4026 aimed to come up with an alternative through a sales tax on wholesalers, but lawmakers decided the issue was too complex for a short session that was already jam-packed. If the ballot measure passes, lawmakers will tackle it again next year before the liquor market goes private in July 2017.


__Gray Wolf: HB 4040 proposes to uphold in state law last year’s decision to remove the gray wolf from Oregon’s endangered species list, a move that’s intended to thwart an ongoing lawsuit by environmentalists, who want to challenge the scientific merits of the delisting decision through judicial review. Initially, some House Republicans touted the bill as a way for the Legislature to shore up support of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s decision, repeatedly rejecting the notion that it could impact litigation. But when the bill advanced to the Senate, a committee determined the intent was, in fact, to thwart the lawsuit, a move critics say sets a bad precedent for the Legislature’s role in the legal process. The bill is just one vote away in the Senate from going to Gov. Kate Brown, whose office is neutral on the bill. But with the controversy now surrounding it and the chamber’s growing backlog of other bills, it’s unclear when or if a final vote will occur.

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