Well, that was anticlimactic. And strange, maybe even bizarre.
On a near party-line vote, the Oregon Senate passed a gun control bill and sent it Gov. Kate Brown for her blessing.
That was no surprise. But it was a surprise that the Senate spent less than a half-hour debating Senate Bill 554.
Even how the Senate wound up voting on the bill Wednesday was weird, though legal under Senate rules. It illustrated, once again, that whichever political party controls the Legislature determines what happens.
SB 554 comprises 12 pages mandating safe storage of firearms, prohibiting people from carrying guns in the Oregon Capitol and Portland International Airport, allowing schools and colleges to ban firearms on campus, and increasing fees for concealed handgun licenses.
Half the bill never got a public hearing in the Senate. Neither was it discussed in a Senate committee. That is because the House Democrats took the version of SB 554 that the Senate had passed 16-7 in March after various parliamentary maneuvers and lengthy debate, rewrote the bill to add the safe storage mandates, passed the new bill 34-24 and shipped it back to the Senate.
Wednesday’s Senate vote was on whether to accept the House’s changes. The bill had been listed for Senate consideration next month but sometime Tuesday it was added to Wednesday’s agenda.
Recognizing that he would fail, Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod of Lyons tried to delay consideration of the bill until June 27, which is the constitutional deadline for the 2021 Legislature to adjourn. “We all know this is going to be a party-line vote, and I really find that repugnant. And I just wish that people would vote for what’s right, not what’s best for your darn party,” Girod said before his motion failed on a 6-18 outcome.
Of course, what is right is in the eye of the beholder.
“As a gun owner for over 50 years, I believe that it’s our duty as gun owners to be responsible in our possession and holding and storing of our guns,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, arguing that SB 554 did not violate or infringe on the Second Amendment.
After the brief debate, the bill passed 17-7. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, signed it on Thursday, and it’s headed to the Governor’s Office for review.
The difference between the six votes for Girod’s motion and the seven against the overall bill was Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. Arguably one of Oregon’s most independent lawmakers, certainly among Democrats, Johnson joined her fellow Democrats in defeating Girod’s motion. That is how politics works. However, Johnson then joined six Republicans in opposing the overall bill, the only Senate Democrat to do so. Four Republicans and the two Independents were gone, presumably to boycott action on the bill.
Now it gets interesting. And expensive.
Assuming Brown signs the bill, as is expected, the law will take effect 91 days after the 2021 Legislature adjourns. That gives opponents a chance to collect enough signatures to force a statewide vote, which also would seem likely.
Oregonians then can expect multi-million-dollar campaigns to sway voters. Imagine what Oregon might have achieved in reducing gun violence if both sides had instead pooled their resources toward a joint, intensive statewide campaign to encourage safe storage of firearms. As with COVID-19 vaccinations and other societal issues, individuals heed the advice of people and organizations whom they trust – and ignore the others.
Speaking of trusted sources: The Oregon Health Authority should ask Cliff Bentz, who represents Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, to record a public service announcement about the coronavirus vaccinations. Republican Bentz of Ontario said he tries to conclude every interview with two words: “Get vaccinated.”
Bentz talked about a variety of issues during a videoconference legislative briefing arranged by Oregon Business & Industry. That included an analysis of his colleagues in the U.S. House: “It’s just astounding how normal people are.”
He also encouraged Oregonians to make good use of their U.S. senators, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. “Ron and Jeff have more power than they ever have,” Bentz said.
Differing views of Oregon: Urban-rural differences remain an ongoing theme at the Oregon Capitol. Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, spoke to it Tuesday.
“I am very concerned about what is going on, especially in Southern and Eastern Oregon, in terms of how people feel about the government of the state. And it seems like we’re just kind of letting that pass by and letting that fester,” he said, calling on Gov. Brown to start talking with people around the state.
“Leadership demands that we deal with this, and in this case, I think it’s the governor.”
Awaiting a conduct report: As of this writing, the House Conduct Committee has not scheduled a follow-up meeting to hear the outside investigator’s draft report into the sexual harassment complaint that Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, filed against Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie.
The investigator had said she expected to finish the report by the end of April.
No office for Independents: Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson says state law allows but does not require the Legislature to provide caucus offices and staff for lawmakers who are members of the Independent Party of Oregon.
Independent Sens. Brian Boquist of Dallas and Art Robinson of Cave Junction have sought to have their own caucus operation, as Senate Democrats and Republicans do.
By the way, Robinson delivers a 2-minute speech about science at most Senate floor sessions. He started by discussing how much of climate change is related to human activity. “Your carbon footprint is not causing the oceans to rise,” he said in March.
Lately he’s been talking about various scientists and building blocks of science, including molecules and amino acids on Thursday.