The Committee Process: Theories of Democratic Practice in Action within the Oregon Legislature

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 »