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February 2, 2014
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Publisher's Notebook: Oregon's short legislative session not short enough

Under the notion that we need to give those who govern us more time to do that, Oregon’s lawmakers are set to begin their so-called “short” session, which is supposed to run 35 days starting Monday.

This will be the second “short” session we’ve had in Salem, since voters allowed lawmakers the chance to get together every year instead of every other year. It’s an even year, so they are only supposed to gather until March 9 at 11:59 p.m., unless they need more time (they can ask for an additional five days).

Had they asked me, I would have suggested they meet every 152 years for maybe 35 minutes — in a back room at Denny’s where they could get the Grand Slam breakfast for just $3.99.

I really don’t need any more government in my life. I’m good with what they’ve already given me, thank you very much. I have all the right permits and licenses and light bulbs and I know how to control my carbon footprint by standing still as much as possible. My breathing has slowed with age, so the ozone layer is also safe.

Unfortunately, they don’t care what I think, so the plan is to cram as much government into 35 days as they can, even if it means nobody reads the bills before pushing the green button on the desks.

That’s right, my fellow Oregonians. There is a pretty good chance there won’t be enough time to actually read the bills before lawmakers will be asked to vote on each and every one.

That explains why we have so many stupid laws on the books and why I can’t buy any light bulb I want to buy.

Compounding matters is the 2014 primary election in May, which will see most of those state lawmakers running for re-election. And we know what a politician is capable of during an election year.

The last time we had a short session was 2012, when there was a 30-30 split in the House that forced the Republicans and Democrats to play nice in the sandbox. The Democrats control the Senate, House and governor’s mansion this session so Republicans can … kiss it, as they say in my social circle. I know, I can’t control my friends.

When a prospector named Alfred Packer stood accused of cannibalism in a Colorado courtroom back in the 1850s, the judge scolded him. “Stand up yah voracious man-eatin’ sonofabitch and receive your sentence. When yah came to Hinsdale County, there were seven Democrats, but you, yah ate five of ’em, goddam yah. I sentence yah t’ be hanged by the neck until yer dead, dead, dead.”

That is one of my favorite all-time political stories so I just had to share it.

All Oregon’s Republicans can hope for (besides an Alfred Packer eating his way to a Republican majority) is that there are enough moderate Democrats to offset the ones who will be screaming for gun control, legalized pot and more taxes.

Those probably aren’t good issues to rush through a short legislative session. They require some actual thought.

The same goes for the I-5 bridge proponents hope to build over the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver. That estimated $3 billion project is supposed to eventually pay for itself in the form of tolls, but there’s also a chance cheap motorists will head instead for an already maxed I-205. I suppose they could put a toll on that one to scare people back to the I-5 bridge, but that may encourage swimmers.

Someone suggested we sell Portland to the state of Washington and let its lawmakers figure out how to pay for a bridge.

Not sure what Portland is worth, but it sounds good to me. Maybe Oregon could make it up by using the proceeds to buy the border town of Weed from California. If Oregon is going to legalize pot, we may as well adopt Weed. It would make for one hell of a good marketing campaign.

“Welcome to Weed. Want Some?”

Not sure California would sell Weed, but I’ll guess “Weedians” (is that what they call people from Weed?) would rather live in Oregon. California’s lawmakers meet 24 hours a day, passing some 7,000 new laws every year. The lobbyists and special interest groups actually write the laws and the elected legislators simply raise their hands when instructed to.

I’m only halfway kidding.

This 35-day “short” session was supposed to be used to work on the budget and maybe make some adjustments, not sneak through major pieces of legislation that nobody has a chance to really digest.

Legalizing marijuana isn’t really a “tweak,” urban vocabulary notwithstanding. One proposal would set the wheels in motion to create a ballot measure in November that would once again test Oregonians’ appetite for pot. Last time they were asked, 46 percent of those who voted favored legalization.

But as we’ve seen in Colorado and Washington, there are unintended consequences that must be carefully considered in any actual legislation.

Just the same, there are unintended consequences in allowing lawmakers 35 additional days to gather in Salem.

• News-Review Publisher Jeff Ackerman can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Feb 2, 2014 12:28PM Published Feb 2, 2014 12:04AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.