OpEd

3/2012 * Got Democracy?

by Laura Weiss, VOIS Board Member and Policy Team Chair

Most of us watch the work of the Oregon Legislature from afar, sometimes weighing in with a letter or phone call when we can. This session, however, was the first official short session, and it moved so quickly, it was hard for most of us to keep up.

If you looked closely enough, you were left with the distinct feeling that decisions were being made behind closed doors and that public messaging deviated from what was really going on.

Huge policy changes were introduced into the short session without consensus or vetting. Controversial issues were in the headlines almost daily: a consistent call for increased timber harvest, a substantial change to our statewide land use system, various changes to laws governing gun ownership, and more.

Issues that seem a no-brainer to any small business owner, like continuing work on a health insurance exchange to decrease health care costs and increase consumer confidence, got tied up in partisan bickering.

VOIS seeks to support policies that support our mission. But short timelines and strict deadlines made it hard for our members, many of whom are busy entrepreneurs, to engage in the legislative process in a meaningful way. In this abbreviated timeline, groups like VOIS have a very hard time having a real voice in the process.

There was some good news out of a Salem this session: a budget that protected K-12 funding and crucial services for our most vulnerable neighbors; passage (after inexplicable delays) of the Oregon Investment Act and the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange; an expansion of “buy local” policies for our local and state governments.

But it was hard to see these steps forward, thanks to the introduction of many bills that have no place in a short session (unveiled, lacking bipartisan consensus). Oregon has a tradition of stakeholders working together over months and even years in order to pass consensus legislation. We hope that future short sessions won’t bring that tradition to an end.

Voice for Oregon Innovation & Sustainability
PO Box 12223 | Portland, OR 97212
| info@voisalliance.org
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