Despite all the media and public attention that is devoted to policy debates in Washington, DC, not all the political action in America is in the nation’s capitol. Some of the most important issues that affect our lives on a day-to-day basis are routinely influenced by the political decisions made in state legislatures. Environmental protection, law enforcement, public schools, welfare, taxation, transportation, and business regulation are among the broad range of issues that state legislatures deal with whenever they meet. Even though state legislatures play a significant role in shaping public policy, few Oregonians have a good understanding of their legislature. This guide was created by students in the Engaging Democracy Capstone course at Portland State University to help provide the public with a better understanding of the Oregon Legislative Assembly.
The contributors to this guide interned in the state legislature as part of the Engaging Democracy Capstone. Here are pictures of some of the students while they were working in Salem.
by Eric Noll
Oregon lobbyists exhibit an important role in the state’s legislative process. Literature exists examining the effect of lobbying on the legislative process, the roles that lobbyists play with certain issues or pieces of legislation, financial relationships of lobbyists and legislators, and strategies of lobbyists, among other aspects. Understanding the role and mechanism of lobbying in the legislative process may help the public better understand the employment of lobbyists and the implications of their work on the daily lives of Oregonians. Within the context of literature and the necessity to understand the role of lobbying an intriguing aspect is how lobbyists work together, in coalition, to achieve common and compromised objectives. The rest of this piece will focus on coalitions through an overview of the role of lobbyists with an analysis of coalition formation among lobbyists and the specific roles lobbyists engage in while in coalition with other interest groups or legislators. The goal is to provide greater insight into the process of coalition formation and its subsequent aspects through literature review and observation of the 2015 Legislative Session.Read More »
by Tony Miller
The Oregon State Legislature is a democratic political process that is open and easily accessible for the public to follow along or even participate in at times. The process should be transparent throughout for an open and honest way to construct good legislation for all Oregonians. That is what most people believe and that is how the process should work in order to craft good legislation for such a large variety of people but unfortunately there is still a few areas within the legislative process that are flawed and lack in transparency. The most notable opaque area is within the amendment procedure, which in the State of Oregon it is traditionally done while legislation is in the committee process. There is a very simple solution to this troubled area but before we explore the remedy to the problem a little history, procedure, and explanation for the related importance of transparency are in order.Read More »
by Christian Britschgi
The purpose of the Oregon Legislature is to draft, amend, and enact legislation to service the interests of the general population, as well as that of elites, and specific interest groups. By and large this function is performed by the various legislative committees within the two chambers that comprise the whole legislative body. These legislative committees are smaller deliberative bodies made up of legislators, who are tasked with a specific area of public policy. The public policy areas that committees are assigned to can be quite broad as in the case of the House and Senate Committees on Business and Labor, which deal with general matters of economic regulation and industrial relations. Legislative committees can also have a very narrow focus, such as the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91, which is tasked solely with crafting regulations relevant to implementation of the recent marijuana legalization initiative. Given the vast array of legislative functions that these small deliberative bodies perform, the complex, almost byzantine rules that govern their procedures, and the position they occupy within the structure of the legislature and the state government as a whole, legislative committees contribute a great deal to the final outcome of Oregon’s political process. It is within these committees that the vast array of political elites, private interest groups, and citizen activists which make up Oregon’s body politic are able to have a direct impact on the bills that are eventually enacted into law. Every statute and proposal that has ever been passed by the Oregon legislature and a good number more that have not been were scrutinized, amended and transformed by the various committees they were assigned too. As such much can be learned about how Oregon’s democracy functions in practice by studying the operations of its legislative committees. Read More »
by Kevin Douglas Hay
Legislative committees are the foundation of state government in Oregon. From their humble beginnings in pre-statehood to their vast breadth and scope today, legislative committees exert tremendous influence in creating and shaping public policy. Though the chief executive and party leader, the governor, may have the power to veto legislation, it is the legislative committees that have the ability to determine the content and fate of legislation. Legislative committees create a forum for citizens, professionals, and experts to express support of, opposition to, or an opinion of, proposed legislation. But does this power hamper, hinder or enhance public policy and serve the wills and needs of Oregonians? Legislative committees are the gatekeepers of public policy, yet they are subject to the wills and whims of those who control them.Read More »
by Emily Langston
From the beginning of Oregon’s history, women held a very different type of citizenship than men. Through a practice called coverture, white married women had no right to their own property, earnings, or children, and were considered “covered” by their husbands in all other legal matters. They essentially became extensions of their husbands, who would represent them in political and legal contexts. Single white women had slightly more economic rights as they had ownership of their own wages, however, they had little opportunity available to them and were still not allowed to vote, thus having no political representation. When the Oregon Constitution was being written and debated in August and September of 1857, the right to vote was included for “white male citizens.” “In the first recorded advance for woman suffrage in Oregon, on September 10, 1857, David Logan of Multnomah County moved ‘to strike out male before citizen.’ His motion lost, apparently without any comment or debate.” It would therefore be adopted in the Oregon Constitution that neither women, nor men of color would be allowed to vote in the state. In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment expanded the definition of citizenship as “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” Advocates for women’s suffrage argued that women, as citizens, should be able to exercise all of the rights of citizenship, including voting. However, in the 1875 Minor v. Happersett decision, the Supreme Court declared that voting was not a right conferred on all citizens. Women in Oregon and around the country continued the fight for the right to vote, changing their strategy whenever they hit a new roadblock, like that of the Minor v. Happersett decision.Read More »
by Jonathan Cote-Schiff
“The mind of man knows no employment more worthy of its powers than the quest of righteousness in human affairs.” Inscribed prominently on the proud marble façade of the Oregon State Capitol, the eloquent and directional maxim written by renowned American philosopher, poet, doctor, and scholar Hartley Burr Alexander conveys the importance of aspiration and rectitude for humankind. The centrality and consequence which emanates from the confluence of the need for individual integrity and just governance quite literally looms large over all who enter the Oregon Capitol, a direct, and yet subtle instruction to do the right thing.Read More »